Mac mini USB audio options

rdx150If you had to point to one specific weakness of the Mac mini as a media center, surely the lack of a digital out would be toward the top of the list. As many of you know I’ve had more than my share of frustration with the M-Audio Sonica Theater, and while I’ve smoothed it out to just one issue and a few minor annoyances, I’d still readily consider other options, for digital audio out from the mini.

Recently I ran across a few external USB audio solutions that just might fit the bill here, first is the Edirol UA-1X which is described as a “simple USB audio interface designed to offer component-quality audio signals to & from your computer”. Sounds good, but so did the Sonica, The UA-1X offers an Optical SPDIF out, I’d have to use an adaptor, but at this point I’d use the clapper and stand on my head, to get DTS pass-through back.

Ok moving on from there I also discovered another possible solution, the RDX-150 from ADS (also SPDIF Optical out) I haven’t really heard much about how compatible this unit might be with any of the commonly used DVD apps for Mac, but hopefully we can get a little repository of feedback and alternate solutions, in the comments here.


23 Responses to “Mac mini USB audio options”

  1. chris head Says:

    Totally agree; I’d readily consider other options besides the Sonica Theater. Now that DTS pass-through is working again (under 10.3.7,) the config app is still pretty awful – I shouldn’t need to run around changing prefs when I want to watch a film vs. wanting to listen to iTunes or other apps.

  2. Abraham Says:

    “Optical SPDIF” – Is this different then the current optical out I am using on my DVD player and XBOX? I thought there was only one type or optical hookup but you mentioned that you would need an adapter so I thought I better ask before considereing purchase of the Edirol UA-1X.

  3. B.Greenway Says:

    Same thing Abraham, just an old habit to include the SPDIF part. Stands for Sony/Philips Digital Interface. i,e the common consumer digital audio interface.

    I meant needing an optical to coaxial adaptor. Sorry, for the over elaboration 😛

  4. Abraham Says:

    Awesome. I guess I don’t need adapters then. I am so torn about what to get. Tomorrow has to bring in a purchase of some kind as I watched my first ripped DVD on my MINI last night… amazing quality, crap sound (actually the sound was ok but was 2.0 so to me that is bad.)

  5. Peter Pedersen Says:

    I know very little about Media Centers, but I do have a Mac Mini. Have you considered a Philips PSC805 for sound? or perhaps you need functionalities that it doesn’t offer?

  6. Thom Brooks Says:

    I should be receiving my Edirol UA-1X sometime today; I’ll let you know how it stacks up against the Sonica (which I already have, and did not have much luck with either.) — Thom

  7. Yonzie Says:

    I saw the M-Audio Transit mentioned somewhere…
    Reportedly, it works much better than the Sonica…
    Maybe an idea?

  8. B.Greenway Says:

    Yonzie, I’ve been told there is very little operational difference between the transit and sonica i.e they use the same family of drivers, and the same iffy functionality.

    The main difference between the two units is said to be the lack of analog multi-channel outs on the tansit

  9. Mike Schrag Says:

    I bought both the Sonica Theater and the Transit. I never got the Sonica Theater to work properly (it would just hang the audio system when digital output occurred). But the Transit worked far better. It was slightly finicky getting it setup, but once it was, it is working well for both iTunes and DVD Player w/ DD/DTS pass-through.

  10. B.Greenway Says:

    Mike, thing is, I had iTunes, Dolby Digital and DTS all working with my M-Audio Sonica Theater before 10.3.8

    It was the update that toasted DTS for me. I still have both iTunes and Dolby Digital operating correctly with 10.3.8

    I’m hoping 10.3.9 will get me back on track.

  11. BruinToo Says:

    You should should just get rid off or sell your Theater and get instead Sonica Transit. I know this works (at least for now). I’ve got 10.3.8 running on mini. All sounds are going thru optical out of Transit to my Home Theater receiver smoothly. System sounds, iTunes and DVD sounds are working perfectly. Note that Transit drivers are dated Sept 2004 while Theater drivers are dated Sept 2003.

  12. B.Greenway Says:

    Considered that, but I’m not sure you caught all of what I was saying.

    I have everything but DTS working right now. That includes system sounds, digital PCM (iTunes) and Dolby Digital.

    I don’t really feel like selling off a device and buying another when a simple software fix can likely remedy this.

  13. JoeDornan Says:

    I wonder if the squeezebox counts as an alternative to these USB/firewire 5.1 audio outs?

    If you could transfer the sound output of CentreStage to the SlimServer software (which would take care of sending it wirelessly to the squeezebox) the squeezebox has both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs! (would they handle 5.1?)

    How cool would that be? Wireless digital audio output for about $249.


  14. Colin Bailey Says:

    Have you thought about the new Perreaux SXD2 usb-dac?
    Has USB and SPDIF inputs, RCA out to stereo.

    I just got mine this week, it’s awesome running out of a mini.

  15. Dave Says:

    I have comments on several of the things said so far…

    “I should be receiving my Edirol UA-1X sometime today; I’ll let you know how it stacks up against the Sonica”

    I really wish you would. I would snap this thing up in a heartbeat if it worked as a reliable DTS solution for the mini.

    “Have you considered a Philips PSC805 for sound?”

    Everywhere I look, it says that this is a Win2000/WinXP only device. Have you heard of anybody making it work for 5.1 audio with a Macintosh? It does not appear that Mac drivers exist.

    “I wonder if the squeezebox counts as an alternative to these USB/firewire 5.1 audio outs?”

    I seriously doubt the sound would stay in synch with video sources if you pass it through a wireless feed. Any lag time at all would make it kind of useless for home theater applications, and it’s not like you’ll be listening to much of your music in 5.1 surround.

    “Have you thought about the new Perreaux SXD2 usb-dac?”

    Why would a home theater user give any thought at all to something which only provides analog stereo out?

  16. Adam Says:

    My Mac mini works great on my Dell 42″ LCD. Trying to upgrade the audio. My receiver supports 96 and 48kHz, on both coax and optical.

    The Edirol UA-1X is a 48kHz device, and has both optical out and coax in and out. The M-Audio Transit goes up to 96kHz, and has optical in/out and headphone jack in/out, no coax.

    Seems to me that the connections are preferable on the Edirol, but quality higher on the M-Audio. They both MSRP for about $99, and seems most stores sell the Edirol at a cheaper price (but barely).

    Is the audio quality between the UA-1X and the Transit USB going to be noticable? I’ll likely only use it for 128-bit MP3s using iTunes – not a lot of DVD playback.

  17. J Krane Says:

    im confused on how you smoothed it out with the Sonica Theater. I have 10.4.2 and cant figure it out for the life of me. It just doesnt work.

  18. Rob Says:

    Any updates from any of you folks? I’m curious how the digital audio search is going and which solution works best.

  19. B.Greenway Says:

    My Sonica theater has been working like a charm for months now.

  20. Henry Larsen Says:

    > My Sonica theater has been working like a charm for months now.

    Which version of the OS? Have you gone to 10.4.4?

  21. B.Greenway Says:

    Yes on 10.4.4 now but I havent had a prob since 10.3 or so

  22. Keith Says:

    Has anyone been able to get the Edirol UA-1EX to output the AC3 – DTS surround single from the Mac Mini? M-Audio Transit is supposed to be able to do this according to Apple but I cannot find a way to do this with the Edirol product (get a digital signal out but not AC3 or DTS).


  23. Chris Dunphy Says:

    I am looking for a way to get 5.1 analog channels out of a Mac Mini via USB. I am building a Mac Mini into a camper, and small 12V systems that can decode 5.1 optical signals are crazy expensive. But if I could get multi-channel analog out, the amplifiers are cheap and easy to come by.

    Any thoughts?

    – chris

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