Mac sound quality

I'm using the new IMac , burning my CDs in AIFF . Its hooked up to an audio grade power conditioner , power cord and run to a Levinson #360S dac from the digital out through a audio grade digital cable . The sound quality is not nearly as good as my mid fi CD player . Iv'e read many posts saying this type of hard drive is far better than good quality CD players , too many posts to disregard . What am I doing wrong , the other posters were down loading , but can there be that much difference ?
Do you have the audiomidi settings correct?

Do you have EQ off and volume control off or set to unity gain?

The levinson has quite high jitter compared to modern asynchronous DACs - this might be an issue but check the software settings first.
Some suggestions:

don't use the power conditioner with the IMac;
instead of an IMac, try a Mac mini... anything from 2007 forward, 2010 is the best for many reasons;
also, instead of using your IMac HD, use a peripheral HD... a firewire connected Oyen comes highly recommended;
you mention audio grade digital cable, is that a USB...? If it is, quality USB cabling matters... I recommend a dbaudiolabs Essential USB cable or a Ridge Street Audio Poeima (or higher, such as Alethias).

As Shadorne suggests, perhaps a different DAC might be a better angle as well... many excellent ones out there under $2k. I recommend the Tranquility or if you can find one, an iRoc. Others will recommend a plethora of good DACs I am sure.

Just some ideas to get a better start,

:) listening,

Thanks for the input . I have tried several DACs and was using it with out conditioner , it was worse . The Mac guys told me the Mac mini and the IMac should sound the same and explained why , ( way over my head ) . Im not using the USB port , I'm using the optical digital out going to the toslink input on the DAC . I have not been able to find the EQ off menu Shadorne spoke of .
Eq off is in iTunes preferences. The iMac does not sound as good a s a mini. I have both.I'll save the debate though, because I doubt that is the problem. Your iMac should trounce a mid level CD player. It is possible the DAC is an issue, but you ought to make sure that your set up is correct.

In itunes preferences:
turn off sound check'
turn off eq
in preferences> import options:
turn on error correction
set to import either ALAC or AIFF(prefered)

In audio midi set (in utilities, put a short cut on the dock)
set output to correct frequency 44.1k for CD
set bit depth to 2 ch 24 or 32 bit

Once this is running, you may consider another player. FWIW, currently there is a bug in iTunes 10.1 that seriously degrades. They will fix it, you channel balance will be to the right of what you would normally have.
Odd ... I am running the same DAC fed via a Windows box with FLAC files. The sound is at least as good and in some cases I feel its slightly better than my Wadia 23 CDP. It's pretty amazing. That being said, I am bailing on Windows and going to a Mac mini. I am also converting the whole collection to Apple lossless. I have tested the Apple lossless format files converted from FLAC and I didnt hear any difference on my Windows 7 box. A couple things you might try,

Encode a CD of MP3 files - as high a bit rate as you can and see if the sound improves. If the problem is transcoding to Apple lossless maybe the MP3 encoder will give better results. If it does improve, it must be someting in the lossless encoding. If not maybe your files are fine and it's an OS or itunes setting.

Do you have access to someone with a different Mac setup? Encode the files on a newer Mac and burn them to a CD then copy them to your Mac then see what the sound is like. I figure its something in the file encoding/creation OR in the playback stream.

Are there Apple based alternatives to iTunes? Might try a different player.
Could it be a setting in the system preferences accessibility - there is an option to convert sound to Mono? (I use this on the Iphone when listening with one ear bud)
4est . Settings were as you recommended , except error correction was off , does this mean all imported CDs will have to be reburnt ? I could not find the audio midi set . This is the newest Imac , could it be different ?

I'm running MacMini, apple lossless with error correction ripping, usb connection to my amp and PURE MUSIC software....I couldn't be happier, I've got better than cd sound with the convenience of my my Itouch as a remote.
TOSlink out to the DAC is not the best way to go, but it should be at least decent. What are you using for a TOSlink cable?
Audioquest . What is the best way to go ?
It's not the "hard drive" that is the problem. Its the internal clock jitter and the S/PDIF interface.

I recommend using an external USB converter or USB DAC. Most of these will have lower jitter. The new ones support up to 192kHz sample-rate. Playback with Amarra, Pure Music or Ayrewave is a must. Avoid using just itunes.

Also, rip CD's with XLD with Accurate-Rip not iTunes:

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
As i said above , iv'e tried several DACs including a friends USB DAC . The collective response was they were no better just different , maybe not even as good as the #360 . So much for asynchronous DACs being better .
How do I rip with XLD ?
Tmsorosk-won't comment on PC Audio. I'm just a Novice at
experimenting with PC Audio. Used to own ML 360S. I
believe that was DAC requiring Power Cord be inserted in
center bottom panel-PITA! Toslink Input on 306S was just
so-so Sound Quality. ML did their best work with Balanced
Circuits. Used to use Transparent Digital AES/EBU on
Digital Input to ML DAC, along with Transparent Power Cord.
If you really like the ML DAC, and want to keep it, you
could try M2Tech EVO USB to Digital AES/EBU Converter. I
do believe it works with MAC and PC. Driver installation should be easier with MAC. You could try ML with and without Power Conditioner. Contacted ML once, they claimed Power Conditioners always fowled up the sound of their 360S. That was awhile back.
What Shardorne and 4est said. Also, talking to Apple guys about two channel is a complete waste of time. I've used firewire and toslink out of my Mini going to oversampling and NOS dacs while achieving amazing results with both.
The Mac is a terrific Music Server platform and there are lots of mods you can do to make them better. Your iMac should beat the heck out of mid-fi CD players.

We work with the MacMini's, and they sound fantastic. Many of the same mods can be made to the iMac, although I think the MacMini will have a lower noise floor because of the power supply differences and the fact that the Macmini doesn't have a monitor built in.

iTunes isn't a good player, so consider changing that. Turn off everything you can live without (software, hardware, ports).

Don't stop until you are spanking those mid-fi CD players. ;-)

I guess i'll go back to CDs , Had lots of info from Audiogoner's , and tried many things , but the sound off my Imac is still very low fi . Like to thank the posters for there support .
Get yourself a Weiss DAC202. FireWire connection. You won't ever look back.
Tmsorosk- wouldn't necessarily blame Imac. I have used ML
360S for over 5 years with strictly CD. Had the matching
ML Transport (model escapes me). Certain DAC's are optimized for certain type Digital Input. This goes for CD
as well as Computer Audio. Some DAC's sound best with
Firewire Input, others with USB, some with ST-glass Fiber,
still some with AES/EBU. Sound Quality for specific Input
is extremely DAC dependent. Not all Input types designed
with same quality, still the design of DAC determines
optimum compatibility with type of Input. Try the ML 360S,
with its AES/EBU versus Toslink/ST-Glass Optical, utilizing CD. You will hear a huge difference. The ML 360S is a truly Balanced DAC, designed to maximize Balanced Digital AES/EBU Input. Balanced In, Balanced Out is the only way to maximize what ML 360S can do. Even Reviews of 360S claimed that its Toslink, ST-glass Optical was only so-so. Everyone went nuts over its AES/EBU, claiming that it was miles ahead of its other Inputs. I am pretty certain the same applies, regardless of utilizing CD or Computer Audio Input. Try the ML 360S AES/EBU Input for CD, and you will hear what I am talking about. Then decide if you want to keep 360S for Computer Audio, keeping in mind AES/EBU Input to maximize ML 360S for Computer Audio. Are you still using Balanced Audio Output on ML 360S? This will make a huge difference in conjuction with Balanced Digital Input. If not, you are just not hearing everything the ML 360S was designed to provide by a third-at least! It is how this DAC was designed, to be optimized, by Mark Levinson. You can give the 360S what it needs (USB to AES/EBU Converter-or whatever) or concider another DAC.
Compatibility is hyper critical with PC Audio, and design
of DAC determines optimum compatibility with different
type of Input. It is certainly not "one size (type) fits
all with PC Audio.
Thanks Pettyofficer , for your response and the info . I have to agree with you on the balanced aspect as well as ever thing in regard to the Levinson DAC . But I have tried some friends DACs , including a very well regarded USB DAC ,( the mate for my preamp ) with little or no improvement . Have not tried converters yet , would have to buy one to try it . Have not given up yet , but I 'm glad I still have my disc's .
How did you come up with your user name ?
If Toslink, make sure it's GLASS. I think that Audioquest uses plastic (which is vastly more common).
Tmsorosk-Name based on being U.S. Navy Retired.
Many in Computer Audio swear by Firewire, others USB, still
some by Wireless, others by Toslink/ST-glass optical, some
by AES/EBU. You simply can't design a DAC that is optimized
for all of these Inputs, unless you have $20,000.00 to throw away on Inputs you will never use. Manufacturers know
more customers available at lower price. The best that can
be done is to design DAC to be optimized with one or two of
these Inputs. They will throw in other Inputs as nothing more than marketing hype, trying to sell Swiss Army Knife.
Optimum Input is highly dependent on DAC design. There is no "TRUE" Input for all DACs. DAC will be designed to be
optimized with ANY specific Input, but not ALL Inputs. USB
DAC that you tried could only be optimized for Firewire, or
any other type of Input. Not all USB Inputs are of same quality. Not all Firewire Inputs are of same quality either. Neither are all Toslink, ST-glass optical, or even
AES/EBU. Everyone thinks each class is the same quality, after all the connectors in each class look the same.
Manufacturers make profit on Customers presuming that USB
Input on one DAC, will sound just as good as USB Input on
another DAC. The up side of optical connectors, is electrical isolation between Source and DAC. The Downside is having to insert two convertion stages in the signal path. Manufacturer can easily design DAC to maximize advantage of one, and minimize disadvantage of other.
Manufacturer can design DAC to maximize advantage of AES/EBU, like Mark Levinson 360S. Maybe not so much for its
optical input. Not all inputs on all DACs are created equal. Not all DACs are created equal to be maximized with all of their Inputs. Reviewers will usually try all inputs,
and tell you where the sweet spot is. Other Owners of same
Equipment can relate sweet spot Input as well. Just beware
of Pundits who claim that only just one type of Input, is the only ideal Input for all DACs. Unless they Manufactured
the particular DAC, or tried all Inputs with multitude of
other Equipment with various Outputs, how would they know?
I am complete Novice at PC Audio. I would still recommend
the suggestions on this Thread. I would then try a multitude of different DACS with a multitude of different
Inputs. Don't just try one Input type and give up. You could try your friends, or even your local High End Store.
I am sure that they could find you a good combination. They
could even listen to your IMac, and make recommendations.
You could also try the place that you purchased your IMac.
Just make sure that it is someone who is extremely
knowledgable about PC Audio. High End Store is usually best place for knowledge about PC Audio. PC Audio is more
elusive, and alot more complicated mating various components, than other source material. Not to say that other source material is any easier either. PC Audio is
definitely do-able in High End Terms. It just takes more
patience, and time. Sorry, I meant MAC Audio, or however
you classify it (joke! joke!).

A couple of things you can do:

I suggest you do not use the Mac's digital audio out. Get a usb to SPDIF converter if you want to continue to use your Levinson DAC. Sterophile has reviewed several of them recently.

Do not rely on itunes alone for playback. Pure Music or Amarra use itunes for book-keeping but substitute their own vastly superior audio playback algorithms.

I'm guessing the biggest issue is using the Mac's digital audio output. If you can, try to get something like an Ayre QB-9 USB DAC on loan, or even something like the new version of the music streamer plus. They both plug directly into the USB ports and you are up and running in 5 minutes. Either of those plus pure music should definitely go head to head with a mid-fi CD player. The Ayre + pure music is guaranteed to kick the CD players keister into the next county.

If you really want to see how good a Mac can sound as a server, you might want to try one of the extraordinarily good Metric Halo or Sonic Studio (the MH re-badged) firewire interfaces. In my humble opinion, one of those with Pure Music or Amarra will not be embarrassed by any digital front end, computer or otherwise at any price.
The optical out on the Mac isn't the best way to go. Rather then spend a lot, I went with a M2Tech hiface with the BNC fitting. I run that from a powered hub, and use a apogee BNC cable to the Levinson. Use one of the many software players and it sounds very very good! Oh and I attenuate the line by 12db...
Here's the solution: use Mac for what is intended to be used as -- a computer for data management, email and Internet access. Neither they not PC's are ready-for-prime-time as music sources. Eliminate the headaches with JRiver, MM, etc., midi settings, additional software like Amarro or Pure Music, etc., firewire or USB cables, external HDD's, blah blah blah. Get yourself a good CDP or decent transport and DAC and relax and enjoy.

Come back in 2-3 years when they have it all sorted out, if ever. Don't forget, this hobby is supposed to be fun, not a teeth-gnashing exercise.


Absolutely support what Nglazer says. PC Audio is nothing, but a nightmare waiting for the wheels to fall off. Lazy
Manufacturer's Format (Tool) for elimination of Customer
Support to maximize Corporate Profit. Like the CEO in
ROBOCOP says, "Who cares if it (PC Audio) doesn't work
(Half the Time)! It would be nice to hold CDP Manufacturer's feet to the fire if anything goes wrong from
Manufacturer's End, once again. Remember those days? You
also don't have to be a Rocket Scientist just to be able to listen to your Music! Convenient my *#!*#! A__!
Apple computers have been used in professional audio recording environments for more than 20 years. Apparently some people can figure it out, some even did way back in the last century.
Ah, Pettyofficer seems to have a fellow traveler in Nglazer.

We've got a movement here! :)
why dont you try and stream it wirelessly using a SB touch as transport feeding into your dac - that would eliminate all jitter and related output issues.
I just switched to the Rega DAC and synced Itunes to the ATV 1...I'm using a Glass Toslink cable. Sound isn't as good as my old Rotel CDP(running through the DAC)...just doesn't have as much attack and detail. Do you guys think this is a Apple TV thing? Would I have better luck switching to a mini mac(they seem somewhat affordable). Thanks for your advise.

Also, is there a way to get a higher output from the ATV 1? -- the DAC is showing the lowest level.
Yeah-Jdoris-I am going to start a movement alright. Goal will to relieve the constipated Customer Support of PC
Audio. About time PC Audio Manufacturers take a break from
counting Profits, and actually DO something to fix the
reliability mess their Products create.
"Apple Computers have been used in Professional Audio Recording Environments for more than 20 years". Great!
Put Apple in charge of PC Audio, couldn't possibly do any
worse! Current PC Audio Manufacturing couldn't possibly be
concidered PROFESSIONAL! I think even Apple can do better than a 50% Failure Rate! You guys just can't stand the idea
of buying anything that is reliable? Is reliability an assault to your senses? You prefer driving brand new cars off of the lot with all of the wheels falling off at the same time? Let me guess, you would be thrilled to take it!
Then all cars start being manufactured this way. You say,
"Don't buy it if you don't like it"! PC Audio=F.O.R.D.-
Found On Rack Dead/Fix And Repair Daily! Naahhh! I'm going to keep on bitchin about lack of PC Audio Customer Support!
I can do this because I am the Customer-regardless if I buy it or not! I am also a lazy Customer, so yeah, I expect
PC Audio Manufacturer to have to figure it out instead of me! Why, because I am the CUSTOMER, and it is what I do!
What do you do, other than sell the idea of unreliable,
missing instructions, failing PC Audio Equipment? I don't know! I don't think that PC Audio Manufacturers are going to send you their Profits thanks to your support. Thanks for throwing the rest of us Customers under a Bus! Crush
our Bones to make your PC Manufacturer Masters Bread!
Indentured Servitude to PC Audio, brilliant idea and very
Convenient. Who needs a stinking Emancipation Proclamation? Slaves to a Machine, now THAT is convenience!
Petty: Where do you get your acid and how do I get some? It's painfully obvious that all of your posts on this subject scream the same thing: You are scared to learn about computer audio so the easy thing to do is bash it.
@Tmsorosk, you mention in your original post that you are using a power conditioner. Disconnect the computer from the power conditioner. Just plug the 'puter directly into the wall. See if that changes anything for you. Is your power plug polarized or unpolarized? If unpolarized, flip the plug (reverse the polarity) and see if that does anything.

I see we haven't had responses from you in quite awhile... wonder how things are going with this project?

:) listening,

I do not ascribe evil motives to anyone. I just don't think computers are a viable alternative to a top notch transport.digicable/DAC setup. Just look at the threads of people having constant problems with hardware/software/etc. And I use computers every day; use iTunes regularly; use dbpoweramp, etc., so it is not computerphobia.