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Apple Silicon Macs have a DAC that supports high-impedance headphones

Friday, June 23, 2023  ⚓︎

I bought the Blue Mo-Fi headphones shortly after they came out in 2014. They great headphones, but the fake leather on the ear pads have almost completely flaked off and now that Blue has been bought by Logitech and is killing the Blue mic brand there is little hope of trying to get replacement parts or repair them in the future (I have tried). Besides, they didn’t have stellar reviews when they came out and now I’m getting into high-fidelity audio.

Wading through the online world of audiophile hardware was making me consider buying a DAC and amp in addition to new headphones, but then I found Apple’s Support pages for lossless audio and it appears that Apple Silicon Macs not only support lossless audio output, but also have a built-in DAC and amp that can drive high-impedance headphones. That solves that problem. I’ll just buy some entry-level audiophile headphones and go. The built-in hardware is probably not as sophisticated as dedicated hardware, but I doubt I’ll ever be that into the highest-end audio equipment. There are other things to be obsessed about.

I can’t find any information on the built-in DAC or amplifier in System Information, but the Audio MIDI Setup app (comes with macOS) allows you to select the input and output sample rate and other settings.

Links to Apple’s support pages:

About lossless audio in Apple Music

“The entire Apple Music catalog is encoded in ALAC in resolutions ranging from 16-bit/44.1 kHz (CD Quality) up to 24-bit/192 kHz.”

Supported on iPhone, iPad, Mac, HomePod, Apple TV 4K (not greater than 48 kHz), and Android.

This page says only the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros support native playback up to 96 kHz, but I think this is outdated because the other support pages all say otherwise.

Use high-impedance headphones with your Mac

Macs introduced in 2021 or later (probably meaning M1 chips or later).

Impedance detection and adaptive voltage output, and built-in digital-to-analog converter (DAC) that supports sample rates up to 96 kHz.

Play high sample rate audio on your Mac

Hardware digital-to-analog converter (DAC) that supports sample rates up to 96 kHz in Macs introduced in 2021 or later (i.e. M1 chips or later).

Set up audio devices on Audio MIDI Setup on Mac

“To set the sample rate for the headphone jack, use the Audio Midi Setup app, which is located in the Utilities folder of your Applications folder. Make sure to connect your device to the headphone jack. In the sidebar of Audio MIDI Setup, select External Headphones, then choose a sample rate from the Format pop-up menu. For best results, match the sample rate for the headphone jack with the sample rate of your source material.”

Some recent Reddit threads on the topic: