Thank you for the input, everybody. It tracks with what I'd been advised before. Went ahead and pulled the trigger earlier today, imported my library and gave it a brief try.
It has noticeably better sound quality than Apple Music, but doesn't knock me out. The software is far more feature-loaded with much finer control and that makes it less user-friendly, too. As a case in point, I still haven't figured out why only a Chesky HD sampler and a Linn 24 bit Christmas download have their metadata and album names. Several searches haven't pointed me in the right direction yet, so I'll have to keep trying.
The biggest disappointment turns out to be that it apparently can't control the computer MIDI hardware output settings automatically in real time to match native resolution of the source material. To change from Red Book to 32 bit 192 kHz for example, I have to reset the MIDI output manually and restart the computer to save the setting.
I was originally given to understand that was something that the software could do based on input to a posting here about the same isuue with iTunes back in 2014 or so. A deep-ish dive into the JRiver support forums indicates it hasn't existed, if it ever did, since ~2016.
Worse, the MacBook MIDI does not upscale well; things like vocal harmonies get very harsh. Downscaling works somewhat better although it sounds artificial. That means a noticeable playback inconvenience remains.
So, if anyone knows how to address the MIDI control concern or has a tip about the weird metadata result, I'll appreciate your input. Thanks again!
JRiver when properly set up, and with Redbook or HD sources, will definitely "knock you out" in comparison to Apple Music, if the rest of your system is even basically adequate.
Why are you resorting to a MIDI protocol? This likely relies upon your computer hardware sound card for a conversion that you will want to entirely bypass.
I assume you are using Macbook's USB Out to Mcintosh 50 Digital In. Go to Jriver Wiki and follow instructions for DACs with direct USB connection. If your MaC DAC has a proprietary software driver, use it. If not, under "Audio Output/Output Mode" select "Core Audio". Then follow the other setup recommendations in the Wiki.
That should get you started and may also solve the data display problems you mentioned.
Your DAC appears to take the direct PCM digital stream of any resolution and upsamples it to 32/196, but the incoming preconversion bit/sample rates should be displayed on your screen.
You will also find that JRiver completely supports appropriately configured metadata.
@sandstone I appreciate the input - gave me the trail of breadcrumbs I needed to sort things out.
It wasn’t actually quite that simple; had to uninstall and reinstall JRiver before I was able to bypass the MIDI and get the settings changes to work. Tested it briefly this morning and verified files run in native resolution. FWIW, the C50 DAC doesn’t upconvert, just automatically adjusts to incoming bit depth and frequency.
Still haven’t been able to obtain the metadata; JRiver doesn’t seem to know where to find it. Maybe I just have to leave it running the search function for a few hours. Haven’t spent that much time on it and it’s not a huge priority anyway.
I'm sure others have different opinions, but I never like up-converting Redbook CD or lower bit rates to something higher. It is a DSP process that attempts to put additional time slices in between the 44.1kz sampling data. It may create a "smoother" sound, but it's artificial and I find that I like listening to the original 16/44.1 sampling better. It has more impact because the timing is closer to the truth of how the waveforms are presented rather than a theoretical conversion to a higher sampling rate.
@auxinput I fully agree, which is why I’ve been chasing this irritating fly in the ointment for so long. Moreover, the native file is how the artist released the material, and one would presume that’s how it was meant to be presented.
It also turns out I spoke a bit too soon about everything working correctly after my quick test. Hadn’t looked at the output data carefully enough. Turns out that while JRiver is now presenting the native frequency (44.1, 192, whatever), the bit depth is fixed at 32. This is confirmed by both the audio data window within Media Center 27 and the C50 on-board display. The data window shows the native data and the output data. The output data matches the C50 display. One example was a Linn classical piece with native 24 / 88.2 and was running at 32 / 88.2. It sounded quite a bit better than when both bitrate and frequency were upsampled, but still artificial.
I’ve posted on the Media Center support forum to see if I’ve missed setting a software switch somewhere; no replies yet. The Apple support forums aren’t especially helpful other than to say that the MIDI interface will only output at whatever bitrate and frequency combination is selected in it. I knew that already and am trying to bypass it as @sandstone suggested. This whole computer audio thing is very frustrating. All I want to do is play digital music in native format. The only device I have that will do that is my MVP-881BR. So far, it’s the hands-down winner in both convenience and sound quality.
Glad that you're making progress and have experienced more of the capabilities of your excellent Mac C50! Just a couple of questions/ suggestions:
Have you by chance downloaded and installed the software drivers and setup instructions from Mcintoshlabs.com?
Use a good USB cable (e.g. Belkin Gold) to connect your computer to the USB port on C50.
Then, look up
The driver install file is located right below the Guide.
Once this is installed, restart JRiver which will recognize and list it as a McIntosh-specific Asio driver option, that you should select.(Tools/Options/Audio Device).
This Centrance (third party) software is great stuff, btw.
Then look up and follow
-- "McIntosh 32/192 PCM DAC, Preferred Settings to Play all File Types with JRiver Media Engine 20 using a Windows 7 or 8 Computer" --
This file is for the C52 but it steps you through what you also need for your C50.
You should now have direct control over all the flexibility that the C50 DAC will allow. Try selecting AUTO when given that option.
As for metadata mgmt,
Go to first principles...Try just ripping a single Flac file, store it locally on your computer, and use JRiver's Library management tools ( well documented on JRiver website) to define the file path to your file as a Library, then set that as your active library. Save. Then it will persist when you log off. You can then load as many other files into this path (Now a Library) as you wish. Or create and load other libraries. A Next step is to then use DLNA protocol to define any file set on your network and activate that as your Library for JRiver to manage.
Apologies if you are already beyond this level of detail. Just let me add that Using ASIO protocol and the USB asynchronous port is the recommended connection for your DAC, as it is with many other higher end DACs.
Hope this helps, good luck.
"Turns out that while JRiver is now presenting the native frequency (44.1, 192, whatever), the bit depth is fixed at 32."
You might be able change the bit depth with this sequence within JRiver:
Tools -->Options-->Device Settings-->Bitdepth
I'm running Windows 11, JRiver 28 and drivers which are specific for my DAC, but this sequence may get you to where you want to go.
For some, the better question is why anyone would pay $1-2 K for another overpriced black box, when with a basic understanding of how to optimize a computer for audio, along with some very good software and and components, folks can and often do get the same or better results for a lot less treasure.
But I get it. Some would rather just spend the bucks and let somebody else do it for them. YMMV.
I may have misread, but thought the OP asked us qn's concerning a specific task related to connecting two already owned components. - Not for advice on what new equipment to buy.
Here's the latest installment of where things stand. As @sandstone suggested, I downloaded all the manuals and the Windows USB driver software from McIntosh. I do have a company Wintel computer that allowed me to install the software in the hopes that it would let me control how bit depth is input by the playback software. It does not, which is not really surprising. Most software applications are designed to control variables from within the user interface. And none of this does me any good with Mac OS X Catalina.
I also got a response from and administrator on JRiver's MC 27 forum as follows:
"That's how it's supposed to be, all Media Center is doing is padding the output bit-depth with zeros to the maximum your DAC supports, so 16 bit or 24 bit is padded to 32 bit, but it's not actually doing any dithering or anything like that. It's done that way to make things easier but it ultimately doesn't matter, even with the padded bit-depth it's still a bit-perfect output (if no DSP is being used)."
Which wasn't what I was hoping to hear, obviously.
As @ho249 mentioned, I did look into the settings for bitstreaming, and those are none (the recommended default), HDMI, S/PDIF, DSD or custom. Choices under the custom menu are all formats: AC3, E-AC3, True HD, DTS, DTS-HD and DSD. While the C50 does support S/PDIF input for the DAC, that connection handles up to 24 bit only. DSD is not supported in the C50 DAC and the home theater outputs aren't useful in this case. The MC Audio Device options output setting available for the C50 is McIntosh Audio [Core Audio]. The ASIO protocol is not an available option within MC 27 and the set-up documentation for OS X specifically cites [Core Audio] choices as preferred.
This all prompted a message to my dealer (Audio Classics) and as they always do, Ryan put me in touch with a McIntosh factory support engineer. Ron asked after the C50 firmware, which is presently V2.00-2.10. He advised upgrading to the current V2.00-2.21. Unfortunately, that can only be done by a dealer and the nearest one to me is a 100+ mile round-trip. If it can't be done while I wait, then my entire audio system is out of commission until I get it back, too. Ron offered to walk me through JRiver settings over the phone in an effort to find a stopgap, and I'll take him up on that when I'm able to pry half an hour loose next week sometime.
I made another effort at a critical listen last night on a bunch of Red Book material I know well just to see if I could live with it as-is. The warm-up time for my system is lengthy since it's in a concrete and rock-faced rack (one day I'll get a couple of pictures posted to my virtual system here so folks can see it), but even the first tune sounded off. After half an hour or so, I tried a cut (Doors Riders on the Storm) that always impresses when I play the disc on my 881 and was again disappointed. While the imaging was on point, the vibrato of the Fender Rhodes piano just sounds wrong to me when the bit depth is changed. As a final test, I was going to try a 24 bit 88.2 kHz Bach piece and JRiver hung. Restarted the software, still hung. The last time this happened, I had to uninstall and reinstall it so I shut the test down. I may get back to it this weekend or may not. I have very limited patience for balky computer software and even less time to deal with it.
As to the @ozzy62 comment, @sandstone is exactly correct. My MacBook Pro wasn't doing anything and has literally been around the world twice with me since I purchased it in 2012. I used it so hard and so long I spun the hard drive off its bearings and had to shelve it. Which perforce shelved my digital music project, too. I'd been thinking about a BlueSound Vault when I knew the hard drive was failing, but really didn't want to buy yet another box to wedge into my rack. Then this past spring I found a 1 TB internal solid state drive for $150, got lucky copying my audio files from the old drive over and was able to resurrect the Mac. The machine now boots from dead cold to fully operational in less than 19 seconds. Media Center fully boots with the complete library (~350 GB) in 5. Not bad for a 10 year old laptop.
Finally, I received an upgrade notice last weekend from JRiver to migrate to MC28 for Mac and obtain all kinds of "improvements." For the bargain price of $30. As much as I'd like to start getting into the minutiae of metadata, I'm going to attempt resolving the whole bit-depth thing first and before I spend any more money.
And computers were supposed to make our lives easier...