MacAir to PWD II via USB, not sounding very good...

I’ll admit, am a slow adopter of computer audio but having been a very satisfied owner of a PWT/PWDII combo for years, I figured it was time to try it. I’ve no problem with streaming on bluetooth speakers, or using my laptop as a source of music at work, but at home, I have higher standards. Anyway, last weekend I started playing around with my 2014 Macair, connecting it to the PWD II via USB (generic cable) and was surprised at how poor it sounded. No, am not being audio-snobby, it just sounds so much more muffled and flat than a CD on the PWT or vinyl. Clearly something is not right so I set about learning and adjusting.

So far, I’ve ripped music in AIFF, via iTunes, chosen the PWD II as the output from the sound prefs panel, set the Audio Midi to various settings to see if that helps (it does, but not much) but the sound is mediocre and far inferior to CD. So, am left with a couple of thoughts.

  1. Could be iTunes is crap and I need another player to deliver the signal to the PWD. I accept there are better options but how bad can iTunes really be in this application? I’ve compared iTunes to VOX at work and thought the difference was subtle.

  2. Maybe the generic USB cable is holding me back? Again, I believe cables matter but I’ve never heard a cable be that dull.

  3. There’s some software setting I am not getting right but I can’t fathom what it would be having checked the iTunes import settings, the Midi, and the various filters on the PWD.

At this point I’m close to just saying, ‘forget it’ to the idea of laptop via USB to the PS Audio DAC but am curious as to what the root cause could be here. Again, this is not a case of the sound being slightly off, it’s clearly not close to the quality of any other way I play music through the system. What gives? Thanks for any insights …figured if anyone would know it would be this group.

If Audio Midi is set to the same sample rate as the source there is not a lot else that I can think of in terms of settings. BitPerfect is a great program that works with iTunes and eliminates the need to change the settings for different sample rates (costs $10 from the Mac App store as I recall). It might help. Can you try a different USB cable? It doesn’t have to be expensive–something like a Belkin gold USB for example. You might also try a Toslink cable (I’m assuming the Air has a Toslink out–it may be the same jack as for headphones). You’d need a cable with a mini-jack connector on one end (or an adapter) and a regular Toslink connector on the other.

Get Bit Perfect or Audirvana.

The issue is that you are sending the audio through CoreAudio ad it is modifying the information and doing unnecessary things. iTunes by itself is a no go.

Toslink is not going to help these issues.

Am going to find a new cable to start, then BitPerfect. It’s hard for me to imagine iTunes being this bad when it sounds fine via headphones, and is improved nicely when using one of those Audioquest USB DACs before my Senns. I have occasionally connected the laptop to my rigs over the years but never noticed it sounding as poor as it does at the moment. Something’s not right, for sure. I’ll report back – thank you both for taking to time to suggest options.

Don’t get too good of a usb cable… your money will be better spent getting a USB regenerator like the Regen or IsoRegen. If you are spending $200 on a cable then its way too much to start with, mind you the optimum is to use a better cable and regeneration, I would prioritize the regeneration first if you are already in that budget area for a cable.

It is not that iTunes is dreadful, but rather there are such better options.

As you note, something is wrong. I hope you are able to quickly work through it.

Definitely not going to spend on a USB cable as I doubt the improvement will be that drastic, unless of course the one I am using is completely faulty (in which case, a cheap Belken replacement will reveal it). If I start having to look at $200 regens then I am going to start to wonder if I am on the wrong path all together. The SQ difference is so obvious I am sure something is wrong. The PWD works perfectly fed from the PWT, and sounds superb, so I think the DAC must be ok (unless there is really something up only with the USB input). I tried two different laptops and they both sounded odd so am thinking it might be iTunes (but why does it sound fine on both via headphones?) or it’s something in a setting on the laptop sound out that I am doing wrong but I’m not seeing where it could be. Hopefully, I just have a bad cable…I’ll find out soon enough.

OK, grabbed another USB cable from work, no joy; and tried yet another old Mac laptop…same problem. Music is a bit muffled, occasionally distorted and definitely an order of magnitude lower in quality than just playing the same track via CD and PWT. I cannot believe anyone would consider that to be high end sound, so am sort of thinking there’s something else at work here than just iTunes not being good enough.

Download the Audirvana trial and make sure exclusive mode and Integer mode are enabled and you will be happy.

Thank you ‘cxp’. I just did that and it definitely improves matters. Not sure I’ve optimized everything yet but for the first time, the music is listenable. Gonna play with this a bit before deciding what’s next. I made the slight mistake of downloading the trial on my main machine when I had hoped to create a music server from my ancient but still well functioning G4 powerbook. Not sure that machine can be updated to handle A’virna but it’s all part of the game. For now, I feel some veils have been well and truly lifted. Thanks all – bye bye iTunes as a player.

No problem, as long as INT and SYSOPT are green on the top right you are good to go. Make sure forced upsampling is off. I keep system optimization on extreme. Turn off any loudness/volume normalization.

The A+ remote is $10 in the app store and works nicely :slight_smile:

PM me if you have any questions or run into an issue.

Excellent news!

Well done, cxp