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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

I had the same problem. I got some cheap thing off the ebay that will split out analog and digital optical from the hdmi. It makes one less cable to plug in to 'dock' the air to the tv.

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