The truth about Apple/iTunes volume control?


Hi - I've always understood it's best to use the maximum volume setting on your computer when playing back music, controlling the volume with the amplifier. That has always worked for my ears, but now I have a new source (a USB DAC) that appears to be getting overloaded by the maximum signal from my Macbook Pro running iTunes.

I'm wondering if it would be possible at this stage of Apple and iTunes' development to lower the volume without losing bits. There seem to be recent reports saying yes, and one forum member said worries about lossy digital volume control were a "myth," although others disagreed. Today, I was told that it's OK to lower the volume on the computer to its "native level," a setting in the middle, or close to it, that is the default level when you first turn it on. I've got a Macbook Pro that has an overall volume control I'm wondering about, in addition to the iTunes. Unfortunately, it seems to be remembering my previous settings, such that I don't know what this native level is.

So, does anybody have any definitive answers on this?
coverto
Which USB DAC are you having trouble with?
Well, it's a USB DAC that I like and I'd prefer not to start talking about how I'm "having trouble" with it unless that's a crucial question here. I'd really like to just focus on the general question of volume control on iTunes/Macs.
Well, it's a USB DAC that I like and I'd prefer not to start talking about how I'm "having trouble" with it unless that's a crucial question here. I'd really like to just focus on the general question of volume control on iTunes/Macs.

It's a relevant question, since it's a very unusual problem. I've never heard of a USB DAC getting "overloaded" by the signal form iTunes. I thought that lowering the level within iTunes was a compromise in the dynamics of the music, and that it is best to leave the volume at max and do any volume controlling in the analog stage. I always leave the volume maxed in two systems and have never had a problem. I'd also be curious to hear which DAC is yielding such a problem.
I heard with version 8 the itunes volume control was not an issue anymore, though i am not sure what they did differently.
I'm also thinking it's not your USB signal, but instead either a problem with your DAC or your DAC=>preamp compatibility.
I think Jax2 and Peter have it right.

The compatibility between dac and pre are suspect. You're not going to get much help unless you tell us what your components are.

Turning the volume down on Itunes is a work around that will work but is not optimum.
The newer versions of iTunes have effectively eliminated the volume control problem as long as you only use it a little bit.

As far as the overloading USB D/A, the only one that I know of that suffers from this problem is the -- hold on a minute, I heard what sounds like breaking glass coming from downstairs. That's odd, a well known audiophile manufacturer is standing in my living room.

"What do you want?" "Why are you here?" "No, no, don't, wait, pluleeeeze, arrrrggggh!"
Newer releases of itunes have a 24bit dithered volume control that is fsr better than anything available a few years ago. However- halfway seems kind of low and while the concern about keeping it there is probably theoretical it is still something I would do with caution.

I agree that your real issue lies elsewhere.
From their previous posts to the A'gon forum I would guess the OP might be asking about the Blue Circle Thingee, but that is purely speculation. Oddly enough it employs the TI PCM2706 DAC - I've just recently read a comment on a different product using the same DAC chip in its line-output that mentions some distortion when using the Apple volume control at the highest setting. The other product is an iBasso D4 Mamba portable headphone amp. here's the thread that mentions it. I have not looked through the 50+ pages of input there to find out what it's about, but if the OP is indeed talking about the Blue Circle product you may want to invest time into checking that thread. It could have something to do with that specific DAC chip. If I'm wrong about the product, then all bets are off.
I'm a little taken aback that the identity of my DAC has drawn such feverish speculation. Thanks for all the interest, but I'm just wondering whether turning down the volume slightly on the Mac's overall volume control and/or the iTunes volume control can be done without losing bits, and thus solve my problem. Am I grossly oversimplifying this?
It is not the identity of the dac per se- it is the fact you won't share it. Completely bizarre.

Quite frankly you don't deserve a response.
Robr45- I don't see what's "completely bizarre" about being reluctant to drag a manufacturer's name into a discussion thread where a lot of folks seem to think there's a scandal brewing. In my humble opinion, your hifalutin tone is what's bizarre. On the other hand, your earlier post was extremely helpful. Thanks for that, whether I deserved it or not.
Converto,
A few have already mentioned that the current iTunes does not lose any quality with a lower volume setting in iTunes--as far back as iTunes 7. Looking for specific proof? Google/Bing "24 bit volume itunes" you will see references from Benchmark (DAC mfgr), Stereophile, etc.

Your comments about the Macbook pro are a bit confusing when referring to "Native level" what is that?

Why you are asking about the system volume/level is a bit confusing itself. The system volume control is not used with a USB DAC (not with mine any way) FWIW I use a Wavelength Brick DAC--the Mac's system volume is disabled (it moves but does not change output level). And iTunes volume works as expected.

Does anyone who uses a USB DAC with a mac, have a system volume (not iTunes player volume) that is functional while the USB DAC is the chosen output?

AG members are likely asking about which DAC you are using, because there may be in issue with that DAC. It is the DAC's duty to provide a signal to the mac to allow it to be chosen as the output device in Mac's Audio Midi Setup. Is your DAC showing up as an output option in Audio Midi? knowing which DAC may allow some who are familiar with that DAC to possibly provide a solution for you or let you know that theirs works or also has problems.

Hope that gives you some leads to track down the issue with your DAC.

Cheers, Ed
I had an overloading issue for a while. I suspected that my Lite DAC-AH was sending too much signal to my pre. I blamed the DAC. For a while I adjusted my iTunes volume down a bit and it went away. But then it came back a few months later. What it turned out to be was a pre-amp tube that was on its way out. I replaced it... problem gone. Sometimes it not what you think.
Robr45- I don't see what's "completely bizarre" about being reluctant to drag a manufacturer's name into a discussion thread where a lot of folks seem to think there's a scandal brewing. In my humble opinion, your hifalutin tone is what's bizarre. On the other hand, your earlier post was extremely helpful. Thanks for that, whether I deserved it or not.

Speaking for myself, I was just trying to help you figure out a problem. I have no interest in mud-slinging. I am baffled where you might see ANYONE suggesting anything "scandalous"?! I don't see any such frenzied desire to out anyone here...just people trying to helpfully answer your question. In fact, the only one I see elevating the issue disproportionately is you! I agree, it is bizarre that you ask a question and withhold what might be key information in answering it. Without knowing what DAC you are using that's a huge piece missing from the puzzle. As I illustrated in one possible suggestion in my previous post, by pointing out the DAC you are using you might lead to getting much more useful input from others that may lead to a better understanding of what you're up against. You might get direct responses from other people who actually use the same DAC in a similar way, and as Cutterfilm points out, the solution may not be the DAC at all. This is like someone phoning up the CarTalk dudes on NPR and telling them all about this problem they're having with a strange noise coming from their engine and then refusing to divulge the car. You said in your post this is a new source - if it is brand new why don't you ask the question of the manufacturer you seem to believe needs protecting, and or the dealer you bought it from. You may also get more information over on the PCAsylum section at AudioAsylum regarding the iTunes volume control.

Good luck.
Ed - thanks for the comments! The "native level" talk was confusing for me too - I was told it's the volume setting your Macbook has when you first turn it on, which is about 40% for the computer itself and 50% for iTunes. So the idea would be that if you've got both settings at at least 60% or 70% you're safe. That's what I was told by a colleague, and it seems to be corroborated by what a lot of folks on this thread are saying.

To answer your question - yes, the DAC shows up as an output option on my midi setup, and the volume control does work with it.

Cutter - thanks, and to your point I think I've either got a problem with the DAC chip, or the power supply that's feeding it!

Jax2 - Above all, thanks for your very valuable and generous commentary here! I don't mean to be coy about all of this. Your "car talk" analogy is quite apt, and I understand how you might be a little exasperated at my reticence about the dac. I guess I'm just being a little protective of a manufacturer that I like, whether that's appropriate in a forum where everybody is looking to learn, I'm not totally sure.

To your point, I did ask the manufacturer who "needs protecting," and the manufacturer suggested turning down the volume to solve the problem.

So, now I guess it's legitimate to ask - is that a totally bogus response from a manufacturer? Should I "out" this manufacturer once and for all for the shoddy operation that it is?

Seriously, thanks to all for the input.
So, now I guess it's legitimate to ask - is that a totally bogus response from a manufacturer? Should I "out" this manufacturer once and for all for the shoddy operation that it is?

I'm hoping that last question was tongue-in-cheek. Again, of every response you have on this thread you are the only one here making any insinuation of wrong-doing on the part of the manufacturer. No one here has suggested that. Of course, at this point, given that fact, I would not suggest you "out" the manufacturer because if it puts anyone in a bad light, it would only be you. I would suggest that you had a very legitimate and valid question from the start and asking it honestly and specifically would have been a much more productive approach that could have been done without casting any dispersions. Obviously you seem to have a good sense of this particular manufacturer, by your reasons for withholding information that might otherwise help you. Given that, why would you doubt that it is with good intentions he suggested what (s)he advised? I guess I'd focus on researching further what they suggested to you and check other resources on PCAsylum and other sites like ComputerAudiophile. If you ask the question again, and wish to continue leaving the manufacturer out of it, I'd just leave out the whole back story of the DAC and just ask specifically about the volume control in iTunes, if that's truly all you want to try to understand.
Jax - Yes, was tongue-in-cheek on that last question. No insinuations, no aspersions. Honestly. Thanks for the advice. Over and out.