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Questions/Info on Intel CPU iMac Audio Features
Reports Last Updated: 3/10/2006


(reader post from the Jan. 26th, 2006 news page)
" In all the reports on the new Intel iMac I've read, none go into any real detail about the onboard audio in these new machines. I've become aware of two things, from Apple's specs and the system profile from someone who has bought one: it has optical audio out (but not in), and Intel High Definition Audio. But what does this mean?

Does the new iMac support full digital surround sound out of the box now, with no need for an add-on sound card (well, in the iMac's case, a USB sound card)? And how about higher-quality sound capabilities for audio editing apps? Or did Apple stick with its traditional not-as-good-as-PCs onboard sound? (He means that some PCs have onboard 5.1 support, EAX (for PC games), etc. But there's also a lot of PC Audio cards sold. And software support for any advanced features of the iMacs sound hardware would also be required-Mike) Inquiring minds want to know.
If you have info, I'd appreciate it, or if you could post the question to get more detailed feedback from users...
Thanks! -Chris "

If you own an Intel CPU iMac and can comment on this, let me know. Thanks.

Reader Replies on Intel CPU iMac Audio: (most recent first)

Audio Output Jack Compatibility
Most reports here commented on optical audio cables, advanced features, surround sound, etc. - a reader recently wrote on problems using analog speaker/headphone connectors.

(3/10/2006)
"I just checked with 3 new iMacs (20in and 17in). You cannot insert the 3.5mm audio jack in the audio port of the iMac. I tried 3 different jacks to no avail.This results in not being able to use external speakers or headsets. Funny this has not come up before.
-Paolo Z."

I've not seen a new Intel CPU iMac yet but the Apple iMac specs page notes a "Headphone/optical digital audio output" and I checked Apple's iMac support page and downloaded the iMac (early 2006) User Manual (PDF). Page 55 covers connecting audio devices and says:

" Using Audio Devices
Your iMac comes with built-in stereo speakers, a combination headphone out/optical audio out port, and an analog audio line-in port.

Headphone Out/Optical Audio Out Port
Connect a pair of headphones to the combination headphone out/optical audio out port and listen to music without disturbing anyone around you. You can also connect your iMac to an AV receiver using an optical audio cable with a miniplug."

Apple's 'Mac 101' page on connecting audio devices mentions a std 1/8in stereo mini plug. (Although 3.5mm is larger (appx. 0.138 inches) than 1/8in (.125), I mic'd a jack here and it measured .135.) I also wrote a reader with an Intel iMac to ask about this and he replied:

" ... I connected my JBL Creature II without any hassle on the (now sold) iMac Core Duo 20"

In case you want to know why I sold the Intel Mac, I can tell you it was because unresolved pops and clicks using external speakers. (see previous report below-Mike) It doesn't happen with internal ones. It has been almost a month and Apple hasn't resolved this big issue.

I'm very picky about these things and of course when I buy Apple hardware I expect top-notch stuff without problems right out of the box. After calling a few times to AppleCare they wanted me to pay for AppleCare extension in order to replace the defective unit. I had enough with the extra cash for the a similar fan issue with this G5 that was replaced and paid AppleCare too but I didn't want history to repeat so I refused to follow Apple instructions and sold it and now I'm back to jet-mode on intensive CPU with the G5 again…

I'm now waiting for 1st April to see if there are price drops because Intel will slash CPU cost for about 33% at the end of this month. I had enough of faulty iMac units so I will look another model instead.
Best regards, George "


Audio Pops/Noise?

(2/18/2006)
" Hi, it seems several people are having audio popping issues on new 20" iMacs. I can confirm this problem on my own machine too.
http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?messageID=1763198#1763198
Best regards, George "

See the next report above for George's later mail on this.


Notes on DVD Player and Dolby/DTS:

(added 2/17/2006)
"I purchased a 20" iMac Intel Core Duo 2GHz computer on February 13, 2006. After fussing with the computer trying to get Dolby Digital or DTS sound, searching forums on the subject and coming close to calling my Apple Store or AppleCare, I gave up and seriously considered returning the computer for a PowerMac. Before boxing it up, I tried one last thing.
- Open DVD Player without a disc in the optical drive. Under the DVD Player menu item, click "Preferences" or use Command-comma Click "Disc Setup"
Change the audio output pulldown to "Digital Out - Built-in Output"

This setting can only be changed when a DVD is stopped or a disc is not in the drive. If the disc is paused or playing, this pulldown will be grayed out.

With the proper cable (and adapter for iMacs), you will experience pristine Dolby Digital or DTS sound. I have confirmed 6.1 DTS with The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition, and 5.1 DTS & 5.1 Dolby Digital with Spider-Man 2 Superbit.

You can use any optical (TOSLINK) cable with a PowerMac, but for iMacs, you need an adapter. The Monster iCable Fiber Optic Kit is perfect for this. You receive the adapter and a 2 meter (appx. 7- foot long) white optical cable for $30 retail. This kit is not easy to find -- most computer stores don't carry it, the Apple Stores I've visited don't know what I'm talking about and I've been unable to find it on the online Apple Store. Here is the MonsterCable.com link
-Pete "

A report below from Feb. 1st mentioned getting a cable from a Target store but also see the Reader comments on sources for lower cost Optical Audio Cables.


Notes on Optical Audio:

(added 2/1/2006)
"Yes, it does indeed output a digital stream via an optical cable connection similar to the G5 output via a TOSlink optical cable. I picked up an optical cable from Target, mainly because I wasn't sure that the ones at Best Buy had the right connector on them. The cable MUST have an adapter on the end to fit a 3.5 mm audio connection on the iMac. The adapter is essentially just enough to fit the 3.5 mm connection and pass the optical signal from the back of the connection to the cable. When you plug in the cable, the Sound preference pane shows Digital Output as the connection instead of Line Out or Internal Speakers.

With the optical cable providing audio output, you still get the 16, 20 and 24 bit audio as shown in Audio MIDI Setup. You also get "Encoded Digital Output" which should output Dolby Digital or DTS streams. I can confirm the Dolby stream. I just watched "The Cave" and the sound was very good. I am just using a Klipsch ProMedia DMX D-5.1, which just supports Dolby Digital decoding.
Let me know if you have any questions about the audio on the (Intel) iMac.
Thanks, Steve "


Info on Audio Settings:

(added 1/27/2006)
"Mike, I'm not sure how this compares to the G5 iMac, but my new 20" Intel Mac shows the following options in Audio MIDI Setup.

Default Input: Built-in Mic OR Built-in Line In

Properties For: Built-in Mic OR Built-in Line In OR Built-in Output
Audio Input:
-- Source: Line In
-- Format:
44100.0 Hz
48000.0 Hz
88200.0 Hz
96000.0 Hz
176400.0 Hz
192000.0 Hz

-- Channels:
2ch-16bit
2ch-20bit
2ch-24bit
(options are same for Source: Internal Microphone and Source: Line Out)
When "Line Out" is selected, a button named "Configure Speakers" becomes active. Selecting button this brings up another window with options for Stereo and Multichannel. When the Multichannel tab is selected, a drop-down menu provides the following choices.

Surround:
-- Stereo
-- 5.1 Surround
-- 6.1 Surround
-- 7.1 Surround
----
-- Geometric
-- Quadraphonic
-- Hexagonal
-- Octagonal

On my system the only selection that is available for selection is "Stereo". The others are greyed out. This may be because I do not have it hooked up to a surround sound system, only a generic RCA stereo line-out. Unfortunately, I do not have the proper optical miniplug adapter to plug in to the Apple system (only the standard optical-optical connectors).
Hope that helps, Ben G."


Link to info on Intel High Definition Audio:

(added 1/27/2006)
"Mike, Go Here:
http://www.intel.com/design/chipsets/hdaudio.htm
This will help those enquiring minds. Love the site!!!
-JC "


Info from iMac Technology Overview:

(added 1/27/2006)
"If you look in the mac technology overview this is what it says about the audio. It doesn't say directly that it outputs surround, but it says you can hook it to a surround system.

High definition audio
Delivering enhanced audio performance with powerful stereo speakers, iMac gives more dimension to games, music, and movies. The integrated microphone, located above the display, lets you take advantage of speech recognition in Mac OS X or use Internet telephone applications without any additional wires or hardware. A standard minijack provides 16-bit audio input, so you can plug in a powered microphone for creating your own podcasts, recording movie voiceovers, or using Internet telephone applications. And with 16-bit audio output at your command, you can plug in head-phones and listen to music using iTunes, watch a DVD movie, play the latest games,or compose a new song in GarageBand in complete privacy.
Built-in optical digital audio output ports enable you to connect the iMac to home theater systems and a new class of speakers that accept optical input. The connector uses the S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface) protocol over Toslink optical cables for connecting to decks, receivers, digital instruments, and 5.1 surround sound speaker systems. Because optical digital audio transmits data as impulses of light rather than electrical signals, it enables true noise-free, pristine sound— eliminating troublesome ground loops and ensuring higher audio and signal quality.

Link: http://images.apple.com/imac/pdf/20060120_iMac_TO.pdf
-Dain "


(added 1/27/2006)
"The author of this comment states: "Or did Apple stick with its traditional not-as-good-as-PCs onboard sound?" and it is obvious that he has limited experience with professional audio solutions or even standard audio solutions for that matter. Macs have superior onboard 24-bit sound than any PCs onboard solution. Its the reason why we don't need sound cards. (I think he was thinking more of the consumer mindset - where some PC motherboards have 5.1 support, EAX, etc. And some Macs owners have bought 5.1 or 7.1 audio cards for previous Macs (like the M-Audio revolution models), and some professions have used various M-Audio cards, etc. But there's also a lot of PC Audio cards sold.-Mike) Professionals however will often move to external solutions due to the inherent noise and limitations of using the PCI bus, thus the huge number of USB and Firewire solutions available will obviously work with the iMac and without software drivers because most leverage Core Audio. In regards to actually answering one part of the question regarding multi-channel audio, there isn't a definitive answer from Apple's website except on their iMac Technology Overview. Page 8 states,

    "Optical digital audio and analog audio ports
    Experience pristine, multichannel sound when playing games, watching DVDs, or listening to your favorite iTunes playlist-"

Page 16 states:

    " The connector uses the S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface) protocol over Toslink optical cables for connecting to decks, receivers, digital instruments, and 5.1 surround sound speaker systems."

From this we can probably assume it can output multichannel audio.
-Jason W. "


(added 1/27/2006)
"I don't own an Intel Mac but I challenge Chis's assertion that Mac's have suffered with "...not-as-good-as-PCs onboard sound?..."
(I knew that would elicit some replies - I think he just meant that some PC motherboards have onboard Audio that supports 5.1, EAX (PC Game environmental audio), etc.-Mike)
Mac's have always offered above standard on-board PC soundcard-standard audio, from the Centris 660AV onwards, apart from a few notable exceptions - which were more the result of accident rather than design. My fear is that the new MacIntels actually do offer PC-standard on-board audio, by virtue of their Intel-designed motherboard.

I wonder whether Chris is mistaking 'not-as-good-as-PCs onboard sound' for 'features'? Yes, Mac's were late to the table with 5.1 support, DTS, etc, but the actual fidelity of the audio outs - frequency response, signal to noise, low latency - has always been way ahead of any PC (mobo) I've encountered. In fact, in the past, for one reason or another, I've ended up using Mac;s on-board audio to deliver the main vocals on several commercial recordings . . . not something I'd have considered an option with a PC's on-board audio.

As the dust settles on the PPC to Intel transition, I fully expect that corners will be cut on the built-in audio I/O of the next-gen G5 desktop replacements. Apple really pushed the boat out with the current G5's and I doubt that this will remain a priority on generic Intel-adapted mobo's...
Regards and thanks for the greatest Mac resource on the 'net
-Rew R. "


For other Mac Audio related topics/articles, see the Audio Topics page.



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