Macbook vs Squeezebox 3


Why does my Bolder Cable modded SB3 sound sooo much better than my Macbook? They are both going into the same PS Audio Digital Link III DAC. The SB3 via coax, the Macbook via USB. The SB3 is connected to my Mac Mini via ethernet and accessing files that are stored on an external hard drive. The Macbook has the same files stored on it's internal drive.

The SB3 sounds fuller, more detailed, more extension at both ends, just better all the way around. Wondering why my Macbook sounds so bad by comparison? Seems like I should be able to get equal, if not better sound out of the Macbook.
Ag insider logo xs@2xecruz
Very interested to read your responses. I have a Macbook Pro 2012 version and I have tried to optimize the SQ by shutting off all non-essential processes.
I'd try connecting your MacBook to the DLIII using optical and see how it compares... or using the MF V-LINK192 / V-LINKII if your particular "MacBook" model lacks optical out.
Not sure whether it has optical out or not. I'll have to check. As for the V-Link, I don't really want to buy any more hardware. Was hoping I could plug the Macbook into the USB input, tweak some settings and have better sound than my modded SB3.

Must say, I was expecting more comments.
3 possible reasons:

1) USB interface jitter is higher

2) SB3, particularly with mods has lower jitter

3) the playback software you are using with the USB interface is compromised. If you are using for instance iTunes on a PC, this is what you get.

You have only scratched the surface of the most important thing in all digital audio systems, the clock jitter.

This only gets better. Try reclocking the SB3 or upgrading your USB interface with a USB converter.

Try playing back from a PC with Foobar2000 and Jplay plug-in.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
I think by default, Mac OS upsamples everything to what the output interface can handle: which on the DAC might be 24/96

Using AudioMIDI Setup to set it to 16/44.1 (same as your ripped CDs) and see if there's an improvement.

Also I believe the DAC in question only has synchronous USB connection.

You should get better performance with a good async USB SPDIF box like a Wavelink HS or OffRamp or Audiophileo
My Macbook does have optical digital output. I did a little more testing last night, using iTunes w/Pure Music in the "memory mode". Did sound a little better than the USB, but still the Macbook sounded very flat, undynamic and one dimensional compared to the Squeezebox.

I guess my next step will be to try something like a V-Link and see what that sounds like.

My ultimate goal is to replace the Squeezebox with a Mac Mini.
Ecruz - the Mac Mini by itself will probably never beat the SB because the jitter is too high.

If you were to use either a reclocker from the toslink output of the Mini or a USB converter from the USB output of the Mini, this would beat the Mini by itself.

The more you spend for these devices, the lower the jitter and the better the result. You MUST use good cables too. A good 1.5m cable from a reclocker to your DAC would cost over $400. Be prepared to spend some money if you want stellar results. This is more important than the DAC.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Steve,

Not disagreeing, just asking. Are you saying that I will not be able to get sound that equals or betters my Squeezebox, from my Mac, without a USB converter and an expensive digital cable? It seems like the converter is the more important piece at this point?

Before putting a lot of money into this, I am going to try the Musical Fidelity V-Link, to see if that improves things at all. It will go to the same DAC, I'll use the same digital cable that I currently use from the SB3 -> DAC. Then at least I'm eliminating some of the variables.

Do you expect that this set up would bring the Mac closer to the SB3? Again, I want to migrate from the SB3 to the Mac. This seems like a simpler solution in the long run. As long as I can get as good or better sound out of it.

Thanks
The converter is where the clocks are, so it is very important.
Be sure to use the Vlink 192, not the Vlink in the black box or the Vlink MkII. The Vlink 192 has better clocks than the previous Vlink versions, and audio advisor has them on for $199. There are much better converters out there, but you'd have to spend at least an additional $250 IMHO.
Steve did not mention; the USB cable from the computer to the Vlink is also very important, as well as the digtial cable from the Vlink to the DAC. Most folks seem to think digital coax sounds better than optical, just FYI.
Why migrate away from the SB3 if it sounds so good? Because it has been obsolete'd by Logitech, i.e. no support?
Why migrate away from the SB3 if it sounds so good? Because it has been obsolete'd by Logitech, i.e. no support?

Exactly.

The V-Link came today. I just finished playing with it, for the last hour or so. Using optical wasn't much better than optical straight out of the Mac. However, once I switched to spdif, things came to life. Finally! Pretty darn close to the SB3, without any tweaking at all. This is on my regular Macbook, using a regular USB cable, iTunes and Pure Music. I now feel confident that I can go to a Mac Mini optimized for music, without compromising sound quality and possibly improving sound quality.
If you are using a stock usb cable, i can heartily recommend the pangea pc usb cable from audio advisor. It's $35 for a 1.5 meter length and the difference between this and a regular usb is very noticeable, i have the same dac, and i auditioned the pangea against stock usb and the audioquest forest, and the pangea gives a lot more clarity and detail. Which vlink did you buy?
I got a demo V-Link II from Crutchfield for $109. But on your recommendation, I just ordered a V-Link 192 from Music Direct for $199 & free shipping. I'll compare them and see if I can hear a difference, then return one of them. Once I get use to this setup, I'll try a couple of USB cables also. My digital cable is an Acoustic Zen Silver Bytes. I also just downloaded the free "Musical Fidelity" version of Amarra. I'll compare it to Pure Music and see if I can hear a difference there.

Thanks for your input.
I am actually in the market *right now* for a USB cable upgrade, and this is my short list, in case you're interested:
Kimber USB and USB AG
Audioquest Carbon
DH Labs USB cable
LAT International USB cable
Cardas USB Clear
Wireworld silver starlight
Ridge Street Audio Poiema
...still gathering information, also looking at digital cable upgrade, will add Acoustic Zen Silver Bytes...
I'd just stick with the SB until it's no longer usable. Eventually, you may not be able to use the streaming services that use mysqueezebox.com, but streaming local files should work forever, as long as your OS on the server remains compatible with LMS. I have saved copies of LMS for backup.
"Are you saying that I will not be able to get sound that equals or betters my Squeezebox, from my Mac, without a USB converter and an expensive digital cable? It seems like the converter is the more important piece at this point?"

Yes, that is what I am saying.

"Before putting a lot of money into this, I am going to try the Musical Fidelity V-Link, to see if that improves things at all. Do you expect that this set up would bring the Mac closer to the SB3?

I would expect it to beat the Mac Mini alone.

This is like buying a phono cartridge. A good one will sound better than a cheap one, but the expensive one gets you the live performance.

Think about this: if the source is compromised, there is not much you can do downstream to fix that.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
I had a similar revelation with a Bolder Modified Squeezebox Touch and a Macmini I purchased with thoughts of replacing it. I ultimately decided it wasn't even worth the effort of modifying the macmini as the SBT had such an advantage and the modifications for the Macmini were significantly more expensive vs. my sunk cost.