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My iMac and Macbook Air only have one 3.5 mm jack each. I would like to use this jack as an audio input source to record an electronic drum kit.

I realize the proper way of doing this would be to get an audio interface, but I don't want to invest in one just yet. For now, I would like to plug in a 3.5mm cable to the output jack of the electronic drum kit and connect the other end to my computer to record the drum kit’s sound.

This was possible with my old 2009 white MacBook. Can this be done in the newer models?

I found this thread and tried using a cable with three rings. This cable has a built-in mic, so the computer is picking up on its mic, rather than the drumset's output.

2 Answers 2

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The response by Allan has it completely reversed. The 2009 Macbook had a line level audio input. Checking the specs on support.apple.com all current Macs also have at least a line level input (some have digital).

Audio in: You can use this port to connect stereo equipment to your Mac with a stereo miniplug-to-RCA cable adapter. Some Mac computers also support optical digital audio input using the S/PDIF protocol.

Source: About the audio ports on Mac

I am aware it is three years late, but the actual answer to the question is yes. He can use a 1/4" to 3.5mm adapter to plug his keyboard into a current Mac, just like he was able to do with the 2009 model.

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    Normally I don’t respond to when someone contradicts me in an answer, but in this case I felt it necessary. The question was not about the 2009 models: “Can this be done in the newer models?”. No, they cannot. The newer models support line out and not line in. 2013 MBP
    – Allan
    Feb 12, 2023 at 19:43
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I would like to plug in a 3.5 mm cable to the output jack of the electronic drum kit and connect the other end to my computer to record the drum kit’s sound.... This was possible with my very old 2009 white MacBook. Can this be done in the newer models?

Emphasis mine

You can’t. The audio jacks on all new Mac computers are microphone inputs and not line inputs, though they support line out. The latest MacBook Pro (as of this edit) has a headphone port, but no indication of a line in.

3.5 mm headphone jack with advanced support for high-impedance headphones

Microphone versus Line Inputs

The key differentiation between mic and line signals is the voltage. Microphone voltage is extremely tiny (millivolts) where line level input is about 1 1/4 volts. Macs aren’t recording/pre-amp devices and do not contain the necessary components to raise the voltage to line level.

The thread you referenced is about the TRRS jack or Tip, Ring, Ring, Sleeve and these are typically used in telco, not pro audio (yes, you can get very good quality sound from them, but they’re never found in even the smallest recording studio). The cable, was just a "breakout" that separated the headphone (out) from the microphone (in) connectors. It never converted a signal to line level.

I realize the proper way of doing this would be to get an audio interface, but I don't want to invest in one just yet.

Yes. However a simple audio mixer that handles mic, line, and instrument (what you need for your drum kit) that also includes a monitor port can be had quite inexpensively.

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    "Macs aren’t recording/pre-amp devices and do not contain the necessary components to raise the voltage to line level." – Can you clarify that? First off, it's not relevant since the OP already has a line-level signal, there is no need to raise the voltage. Secondly, according to what you wrote just before that "The audio jacks on all Macs are microphone inputs and not line inputs", so if the Mac has a microphone-level input, it does have circuitry to raise the voltage at least up to the operating voltage of its ADC. Mar 24, 2020 at 10:13
  • It is relevant because line level is much higher than mic level (refer to voltages). The Mac is not a pre-amp for mic input. Also, mic input doesn’t have a “level” that it needs to be raised to for analog to digital conversion. You’re conflating two totally different processes
    – Allan
    Mar 24, 2020 at 14:18

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