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I know the audio line-out port on the MacBook Pro – and even older MacBooks and the Mac mini – sport a dual capability: in addition to providing the expected and obvious 3.5mm analog stereo audio output, the port is capable of digital optical audio output.

Then by using a Mini-TOSLINK cable, it is possible to connect such a Mac to an A/V receiver (or a dedicated DAC, if you're really into this kind of thing) and thereby enjoy fully digital audio from the Mac.

Sadly, I also understand the MacBook Air does not enjoy this dual-purpose audio output port. I tried, and I checked the specs, and I was disappointed it is simply plain analog stereo. So, what I'd like to know is:

Is it possible, using a third-party device, to produce digital audio output from a MacBook Air? I'm wondering if this may be possible via USB or the Thunderbolt port. Do such devices exist?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Yes its possible and here is an example of a USB to Digital audio output adapter, just like the ones found on other Macs, but external.

enter image description here

Turtle Beach Audio Advantage Micro II USB Analog & Digital Audio Adapter

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Turtle Beach! I remember those guys from way back when. Thanks! –  Chris W. Rea Mar 16 '12 at 18:26
    
The font of Turtle Beach and the color of that logo remind of the retro-style Apple. –  gentmatt Mar 16 '12 at 18:32
    
One note about the linked to Turtle Beach model is that it does not support 5.1 channel Dolby® Digital or DTS™ surround sound on a Mac, but does on Windows, so if you want that on a Mac than this is not the one for you. –  MrDaniel Mar 16 '12 at 18:32
    
Is there another that supports those mentioned bells & whistles on the Mac? –  Chris W. Rea Mar 16 '12 at 18:37
    
You would have to look around too see, not sure how well OS X even supports surround sound etc ? Not even sure that iTunes, or even Apples DVD app etc support it all? –  MrDaniel Mar 16 '12 at 18:41
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