Make your MacMini sound much better

My best birthday present? Dave Winer gave me a little tiny adapter for my MacMini. What does it do? It plugs into the audio-out port of the Mini and converts that port into an optical out one. So, now my optical cable plugs into that adapter instead of my headphone jack. My receiver has optical ports. If you have a recent receiver your receiver probably has optical ports too.

Man, what a difference that makes. My Mac Mini sounds a LOT better now. Dave Winer said it was the best thing he did to his Mac Mini too.

I wonder how many people have Mac Minis and don’t even know that it has optical out capabilities, but you gotta get that little adopter first.

Thanks Dave for making my system sound a lot better!

Why does this work? My theory? The digital-to-analog converters in the MacMini suck when compared to the ones in my Denon receiver.

Comments

  1. You can buy an Optical Cable at Target for about $15 bucks or so that comes with two adapters (one for each end of the optical cable) for the Mac Mini. The Apple store also sells a belkin cable with one adapter.

    The Apple Hifi also takes the optical input. Very cool stuff.

  2. You can buy an Optical Cable at Target for about $15 bucks or so that comes with two adapters (one for each end of the optical cable) for the Mac Mini. The Apple store also sells a belkin cable with one adapter.

    The Apple Hifi also takes the optical input. Very cool stuff.

  3. I have a similar setup, and used to use an optical cable adapter. I now use a “Griffin FireWave”, which is a little white/shiny box that plugs into a firewire port and has 6 discrete analogue outs. Why that rocks: with a DVD, or most DVD rips, you have a raw bit stream which would be passed on to the surround decoder for it to decode and put out through 5.1 – that’s DTS or Dolby Digital. This box does the decoding itself, which means if you have a file that has 6 channels of audio that’s in a format the decoder won’t recongnise, like the Apple trailers (they’re 6 channel AAC), or a rip where someone has decided to use AAC (better due to it being a more recent/efficient codec), it will play through the 6 channels. It also solves that annoying issue where you have to use the amp/decoder remote to adjust volume – the little apple remote will work for everything again :)

    HTH,
    J.

  4. I have a similar setup, and used to use an optical cable adapter. I now use a “Griffin FireWave”, which is a little white/shiny box that plugs into a firewire port and has 6 discrete analogue outs. Why that rocks: with a DVD, or most DVD rips, you have a raw bit stream which would be passed on to the surround decoder for it to decode and put out through 5.1 – that’s DTS or Dolby Digital. This box does the decoding itself, which means if you have a file that has 6 channels of audio that’s in a format the decoder won’t recongnise, like the Apple trailers (they’re 6 channel AAC), or a rip where someone has decided to use AAC (better due to it being a more recent/efficient codec), it will play through the 6 channels. It also solves that annoying issue where you have to use the amp/decoder remote to adjust volume – the little apple remote will work for everything again :)

    HTH,
    J.

  5. Great comments so far, but what hasn’t been explicitly stated is that the Mac Mini’s audio-out port is an 1/8″ combo analog/SPDIF.

  6. I have the original non intel Mac Mini and recently added a small device from M-Audio (Transit, maybe?) that allowed me to take the Mini running Leopard to my optical input of my home theater. The Mini had already allowed me to remove the CD player from my shelves and thanks to the M-Audio I got to remove the DVD player as well. The Mini has been fantastic connected to my 60″ Sony and it’s funny watching my 12 year old getting her homework done on the TV using a bluetooth mouse and keyboard.

    Owning the Mini has been what stops me from owning an AppleTV. Long live the Mini.

  7. I have the original non intel Mac Mini and recently added a small device from M-Audio (Transit, maybe?) that allowed me to take the Mini running Leopard to my optical input of my home theater. The Mini had already allowed me to remove the CD player from my shelves and thanks to the M-Audio I got to remove the DVD player as well. The Mini has been fantastic connected to my 60″ Sony and it’s funny watching my 12 year old getting her homework done on the TV using a bluetooth mouse and keyboard.

    Owning the Mini has been what stops me from owning an AppleTV. Long live the Mini.

  8. Yeah analog out from a computer is not that great. You can either do digital out to the receiver via the audio ports, or new receivers actually support ethernet.

  9. Yeah analog out from a computer is not that great. You can either do digital out to the receiver via the audio ports, or new receivers actually support ethernet.

  10. ugh. i haven’t hooked up my mini that way because my receiver only has one optical in. now you are really giving me an excuse to get a new receiver. thanks for costing me some dough.

  11. ugh. i haven’t hooked up my mini that way because my receiver only has one optical in. now you are really giving me an excuse to get a new receiver. thanks for costing me some dough.

  12. Dosent the mac mini have a really poor video card though, driving a low resolution? How does that work with a HD tv? Its great to hear the audio options!

  13. Dosent the mac mini have a really poor video card though, driving a low resolution? How does that work with a HD tv? Its great to hear the audio options!

  14. Yes, to just drive that point home that #4 aharden made – this piece he gave you doesn’t “convert” the port, it converted your cable’s connection. The port is simply designed for a different optical connector than you had on your existing optical cable. For example, I ordered a cable that was specifically a mini-TOSlink connector on one end, and the full size connector on the other for the receiver. I got it a ridiculously reasonable price from monoprice.com. I also got a 10ft DVI-HDMI for my Mac mini there for something like $5.

    All Macs (that I am aware of, incl the MBP I’m on now) have this optical/analog audio-out hybrid connector. AirPort Express’s have had this for several years. And yes, I agree, optical sounds better. I noticed the sound feels “warmer.”

  15. Yes, to just drive that point home that #4 aharden made – this piece he gave you doesn’t “convert” the port, it converted your cable’s connection. The port is simply designed for a different optical connector than you had on your existing optical cable. For example, I ordered a cable that was specifically a mini-TOSlink connector on one end, and the full size connector on the other for the receiver. I got it a ridiculously reasonable price from monoprice.com. I also got a 10ft DVI-HDMI for my Mac mini there for something like $5.

    All Macs (that I am aware of, incl the MBP I’m on now) have this optical/analog audio-out hybrid connector. AirPort Express’s have had this for several years. And yes, I agree, optical sounds better. I noticed the sound feels “warmer.”

  16. Apple used to sell a cable kit for the Airport Express which included an optical cable (with the small optical end) – so it’s not just the Mac Mini with the mini-optical.

    I hooked it into a stand-alone DAC from a fancy CD player, then into my Amp.

    I upgraded my airport express to an Apple TV and it has a regular optical out, and HDMI, so now I have this otherwise useless cable sitting around.

  17. Apple used to sell a cable kit for the Airport Express which included an optical cable (with the small optical end) – so it’s not just the Mac Mini with the mini-optical.

    I hooked it into a stand-alone DAC from a fancy CD player, then into my Amp.

    I upgraded my airport express to an Apple TV and it has a regular optical out, and HDMI, so now I have this otherwise useless cable sitting around.

  18. There’s a scandal here, IMHO. How come this is newsworthy? How come Scoble is late to this party. How come Dave Winer just caught onto this a few months ago?

    Why is the knowledge so deeply hidden about how to get the best sound and picture out of the equipment you already own?

    Why is all this stuff so arcane? TosLink? SP/DIF? (or is it S/PDIF?) Optical? 720p? 1080i? 1080p?

    Even geeks miss the fine print. For civilians, it’s hopeless.

  19. There’s a scandal here, IMHO. How come this is newsworthy? How come Scoble is late to this party. How come Dave Winer just caught onto this a few months ago?

    Why is the knowledge so deeply hidden about how to get the best sound and picture out of the equipment you already own?

    Why is all this stuff so arcane? TosLink? SP/DIF? (or is it S/PDIF?) Optical? 720p? 1080i? 1080p?

    Even geeks miss the fine print. For civilians, it’s hopeless.

  20. “The digital-to-analog converters in the MacMini suck when compared to the ones in my Denon receiver.”

    Exactly right. My readers taught me that when I went through this bit of learning. It’s about specialization. Your receiver probably doesn’t have a great user interface and it’s word processor probably sucks. :-)

    To Markman, cut the crap. We’re people, not big news organizations. We’re not reporting news, we’re narrating our lives. You’d think by now you’d understand what blogging is about. (To return the arrogance back in your face, sometimes you really are a P.I.T.A.)

    In other words, get a clue — we’re civillians.

    And btw, so are the big news guys, they just won’t admit it. :-)

  21. “The digital-to-analog converters in the MacMini suck when compared to the ones in my Denon receiver.”

    Exactly right. My readers taught me that when I went through this bit of learning. It’s about specialization. Your receiver probably doesn’t have a great user interface and it’s word processor probably sucks. :-)

    To Markman, cut the crap. We’re people, not big news organizations. We’re not reporting news, we’re narrating our lives. You’d think by now you’d understand what blogging is about. (To return the arrogance back in your face, sometimes you really are a P.I.T.A.)

    In other words, get a clue — we’re civillians.

    And btw, so are the big news guys, they just won’t admit it. :-)

  22. @14 “we’re narrating our lives”

    huh? I thought people read blogs to be informed, not to learn what areas the blogger was ignorant in.

  23. @14 “we’re narrating our lives”

    huh? I thought people read blogs to be informed, not to learn what areas the blogger was ignorant in.

  24. “The digital-to-analog converters in the MacMini suck when compared to the ones in my Denon receiver.”

    What you were connecting your receiver to was in fact a headphone amplifier.

    And regardless of the DAC, connecting an amplifier to an amplifier is a recipe for bad audio.

    Good on you for discovering a better way (for those without a digital receiver, a USB audio breakout box can also make a world of difference) and good on Apple for providing it.

  25. “The digital-to-analog converters in the MacMini suck when compared to the ones in my Denon receiver.”

    What you were connecting your receiver to was in fact a headphone amplifier.

    And regardless of the DAC, connecting an amplifier to an amplifier is a recipe for bad audio.

    Good on you for discovering a better way (for those without a digital receiver, a USB audio breakout box can also make a world of difference) and good on Apple for providing it.

  26. Old way = digital PCM data -> Digital to Analog convert -> Headphone amp -> copper wire -> Analog to digital converter -> DSP -> Digital to analog converter -> amp

    New way = digital PCM data -> light -> digital PCM data -> DSP -> Digital to analog converter -> amp

    Definitely a couple less data conversions, and power scalings… SNR is purely driven by your receiver now.

    Other benefit is that now your computer can pass AC-3 audio direct to your receiver so you can decode Dolby Digital from DVDs and other forms of digital video with Dolby and/or DTS encoded soundtracks.

  27. Old way = digital PCM data -> Digital to Analog convert -> Headphone amp -> copper wire -> Analog to digital converter -> DSP -> Digital to analog converter -> amp

    New way = digital PCM data -> light -> digital PCM data -> DSP -> Digital to analog converter -> amp

    Definitely a couple less data conversions, and power scalings… SNR is purely driven by your receiver now.

    Other benefit is that now your computer can pass AC-3 audio direct to your receiver so you can decode Dolby Digital from DVDs and other forms of digital video with Dolby and/or DTS encoded soundtracks.

  28. @davewiner I’ll cut my crap when you cut yours. How about some courtesy?

    I wrote badly: Here’s what i meant. Both you and Robert are tech savvy guys. But the consumer electronic’s industry has got itself so wrapped up in arcana that even guys like you take a while to decode their products and figure out how to get the most out of them

    I wish I had been clearer. There’s no scandal on you. No scandal on Robert.

    I think the scandal is on an industry which has evolved so many overlapping standards that ordinary people don’t know what the best options are.

    I’m really sorry that I expressed myself so poorly.

    Michael

  29. @davewiner I’ll cut my crap when you cut yours. How about some courtesy?

    I wrote badly: Here’s what i meant. Both you and Robert are tech savvy guys. But the consumer electronic’s industry has got itself so wrapped up in arcana that even guys like you take a while to decode their products and figure out how to get the most out of them

    I wish I had been clearer. There’s no scandal on you. No scandal on Robert.

    I think the scandal is on an industry which has evolved so many overlapping standards that ordinary people don’t know what the best options are.

    I’m really sorry that I expressed myself so poorly.

    Michael

  30. Michael,

    You didn’t express yourself poorly….I understood your point and was wondering why Dave jumped down your throat.

  31. Michael,

    You didn’t express yourself poorly….I understood your point and was wondering why Dave jumped down your throat.

  32. michael,

    i also don’t think u expressed yourself poorly, Dave seemed to read your first bit (his name was mentioned), get defensive, then just skim the rest, and get out the guns!

    made total sense to me, and yes, it’s confusing as hell, boringly so. meh, prob means apple will clean up here too.

  33. michael,

    i also don’t think u expressed yourself poorly, Dave seemed to read your first bit (his name was mentioned), get defensive, then just skim the rest, and get out the guns!

    made total sense to me, and yes, it’s confusing as hell, boringly so. meh, prob means apple will clean up here too.

  34. Rahul Dave:”Dosent(sic) the mac mini have a really poor video card though, driving a low resolution? How does that work with a HD tv? Its great to hear the audio options!”

    Actually, the Mini’s onboard video chipset is pretty capable; if you’re just wanting to display video. Where it falls down is 3D acceleration. But it’s more than capable of handling HD video.

  35. Rahul Dave:”Dosent(sic) the mac mini have a really poor video card though, driving a low resolution? How does that work with a HD tv? Its great to hear the audio options!”

    Actually, the Mini’s onboard video chipset is pretty capable; if you’re just wanting to display video. Where it falls down is 3D acceleration. But it’s more than capable of handling HD video.

  36. Spencer, #16 show you the adapter to make this work with any optical cable and #20 shows you the cable integrated with the adapter, either will work.

    For long cable runs you are much better buying the adapter

  37. Spencer, #16 show you the adapter to make this work with any optical cable and #20 shows you the cable integrated with the adapter, either will work.

    For long cable runs you are much better buying the adapter