Almost all Macs output a digital audio signal that can produce everything from high-quality stereo to 5.1* surround sound. With the right cable… any audio on your Mac can be broadcast through your primary sound system.
How Digital Audio On The Mac Works
You can skip this if you aren’t interested 🙂
You Play Music Or A Movie On Your Mac
An Encoded Digital Audio Signal Is Sent To Your Mac’s Headphone Port
Encoded Signal Flows Through A Mini Adaptor And Down A Length Of Fibre-Optic Toslink Cable
Encoded Signal Enters Home Theater Receiver Through Toslink Port
Home Theater Receiver Decodes Digital Audio Signal
Home Theater Reciever Plays The Decoded Signal Through 2 To 5.1 Speakers
What You Need And Where To Get It:
- An iMac, Macbook Pro, Macbook Air, Macbook, Mac Mini or Mac Pro.
- A Home Theater Receiver or Amp/Pre-Amp combo.
- A Toslink Cable long enough to reach from your Mac to your Receiver.
- A Toslink to 3.5mm Mini Adaptor.
Let’s assume you have the Mac and concentrate on the others:
Home Theater Receiver or Amp/Pre-Amp – Your Receiver or Pre-Amp must have an available Toslink/Optical Audio in port.
Toslink Cable – Toslink or Optical Audio cables can be purchased cheaply online. Monoprice produce great quality cables at rock-bottom prices.
Toslink To 3.5mm Mini Adaptor – This tiny adapter lets you plug a Toslink cable into the headphone/audio optical port on your Mac. You can find them on Amazon. I use the Recoton Fiber Optic Toslink to 3.5mm Mini Adapter. At $2.49 it can’t be beat.
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Putting It Together
It’s a simple 3 step process:
- Plug the Toslink To 3.5mm Mini Adaptor into the headphone port on your Mac. It will click into place.
- Plug one end of the Toslink cable into the Mini Adapter.
- Plug the other end of the Toslink cable into a Toslink/Optical Audio in port on your receiver or pre-amp.
Making It Work
If you get no sound… don’t panic. There are a few things to check:
Is the receiver set to the correct output? It’s very easy to get this wrong. Take a minute to ensure your receiver is on the right output. And make sure that mute isn’t on or that you have the volume turned down.
Are the Mac’s Sound settings correct?
Go to the black Apple in the top left-hand corner of the screen and select System Preferences.
- Click on Sound.
- Select the Output tab.
- When you play sound through your Mac’s built-in speakers the output is set to Internal Speakers – Built In.
When you play digital audio the output should be set to Digital Out – Optical Digital-Out Port.
If the wrong output type is selected, click to change it.
- Close System Preferences.
Are the Mac’s Audio Midi settings correct?
- Go to the Finder.
- Open the Applications folder and locate the Utilities folder.
- Open the application Audio Midi Setup.
- On the left-hand sidebar click on Built-In Output.
- On the right-hand side, select the Output tab.
- Source should say Digital Out
- Format should be set at a sample rate of 44,100.0 Hz and the bit-depth at 2ch-24 bit integer.
- The above settings are normal for iTunes playback. If you own music that’s encoded at a higher bit rate, you should play with these settings to get the best sound possible.
- When you play a movie with encoded surround sound like Dolby Digital the Format should be set to Encoded Digital Audio. If it isn’t, then go ahead and change it.
- You may have to experiment here. Don’t worry, you won’t break anything 🙂
Recommended Media Player Apps
VLC Media Player – This movie player will play almost any format you throw at it. It has extensive menus for adjusting audio and video output. We took a look at it in this post – Cool Apps – VLC Media Player… What Are You Watching? Download it here – VLC Media Player.
Vox – A stylish replacement for iTunes that lets you play more lossless audio formats. Hard to believe it’s free. Download it here – Vox.
Audacity – An open-source music editor that lets you digitize audio from analog sources, cut and mix multiple tracks, and much more. Take a little time to read the instructions and get the plug-ins you need. Google to download it free here.
*5.1 Surround Sound refers to 5 speakers: Left, Center, Right, Surround Left and Surround Right. The .1 indicates a subwoofer.
Have a fantastic weekend.