I notice there are more and more speakers accepting digital inputs (USB / optical).

I never had a chance to listen to those myself, so I wonder how would you compare sound quality of macbook's DAC to DACs found in those speakers?

If I'm looking for a nice 2.0 or 2.1 acoustic system should I look for one that accepts digital or should I just rely on macbook's 3.5?

How macbook's built-in sound card stacks up with external USB sound cards - would you hear any difference on normal 2.1 speakers?


P.s. I'm not audiophile or something, but do love some good music.

UPDATE based on Michael's suggestion.

I'm considering these gear options:

  • option 1: no-hassle, just get 2.1 system like some of these Microlabs and connect to macbook's 3.5mm
  • option 2: get either of these as external DAC, connect it to USB, plug probably same kind of 2.1 speakers to the card. Does the card have an audible difference compared to plugging speakers directly to macbook?
  • option 3: get this receiver / amplifier from my friend who sells it very cheap, and connect it... well, not sure what passive speakers I can get here for an affordable price. The receiver can be connected digitally to macbook probably via toslink optical. Or connect same kind of active speakers as above to headphones jack and use the receiver just as DAC. Would that make an audible difference comparing to plugging smake speakers directly to macbook?
  • option 4: get speakers with digital inputs like these with toslink or these with wireless

Again, not looking for any audiophile fetish. Normally I'd just listen and buy what my ears tell me. It's just here in my city it's challenging to find a shop where I can actually plug soundcards / speakers into the laptop and asses the sound quality / audible difference.

2 Answers 2


For the large part the quality of the DAC is like any other quality/price assessment:

You get what you pay for.

A cheap speaker set is not likely to contain a DAC better than the one in your computer/interface.

However there may be a few other advantages with the external DAC:

  • It is physically separated from the CPU and mainboard. This alone will most likely have a positive impact on noise floor and digital glitches.
  • You have a digital connection from computer interface to speaker - it means less noise contamination - increasingly relevant the longer the cord spans are.
  • Speaker producent has a better chance of producing a more optimal routing/pcb/component selection/calibration etc (but of course there is no guaranty here)
  • Michael, thanks for your response. I wonder re macbook internal / external DACs - did you have a chance to hear the difference yourself or just doing your best guess? Is that a kind of difference you'd normally hear? Thank you.
    – Dannie P
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 13:59
  • 1
    I haven't had the chance to try out "digital" speakers, but I have tried many other digital connections and I have multiple times encountered noisy internal/on board sound adapters and also noisy "pc speakers". The best setups in general are external interfaces with balanced analog lines to active monitors. Perhaps you could update the question so we can evaluate the actual speaker model you have in mind? Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 14:52

I have a 2008 Macbook hooked up via headphone jack to my McIntosh receiver. The sound is incredible (this is also true for my 2004 Dell laptop). I have a much newer HP laptop that puts out terrible sound through its headphone jack. Thus I purchased the dragonfly 1.5 and now it sounds fantastic. Then I put dragonfly on my 2008 Macbook. I would defy anyone to be able discern the difference between the Mac's jack and the usb dragonfly - same goes for my 2004 Dell. I can only conclude that not all laptop DAC's are created equal. Now, I don't know what newer Mac or PC laptops have in terms of their built-in DACs. As prices of laptops have plummeted since 2008, I wouldn't be surprised if installing low budget soundcards is standard practice now.

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