Does the headphone jack support digital audio output or not)?

Which is the provides the best sound quality the USB, Thunderbolt, digital socket or perhaps Mini DisplayPort from the Mac of the Mac? and how does that compare with the output of the iPhone/iPod/iPad?

Please note this is actually two questions in one. I both ask about the output of the Mac(Book)s and iOS devices, respectively. Current models.

[For my question not to sound too subjective, I ask about natural, neutral sound.]

More info: NwAvGuy: Headphone & Amp Impedance (Basically he argues less - near zero - impedance is better.)

  • If two questions t should be two questions here also natural sound is subjective I think the only measurable for sound quality you can use is distortion
    – mmmmmm
    Mar 18, 2013 at 21:43

1 Answer 1


I am not an audiophile so I can't answer your subjective quality question (which is better-sounding). But I can tell you that the headphone jack on your MacBook does include optical audio in a format called mini-TOSLINK, which you will need an adapter to get in a standard TOSLINK.

I have never had an audio quality issue with the standard copper-line devices I've plugged into my MacBook or iPhone or iPod. My experience with outputting to TOSLINK extends only to sound systems which are a bit more dependant on the quality of the speakers, so I doubt the optical connector would be to blame with that.

If you are working with video, you may want to avoid TOSLINK as it apparently adds a bit of delay, but if you follow your "reduce impedance" rule, TOSLINK is probably the way to go. Everything here is going to go through some digital stage of encoding, but TOSLINK avoids the wire, reducing radio interference and providing enough bandwidth that you can probably live with whatever or lossless (or near lossless) encoding is done.

  • all true, however not all MacBooks provice optical output! Pro does, Air does not! and best headphone jack sound, i found the iPad to be best, not properly tested mini, and iPhone 5
    – Macmaniman
    Mar 18, 2013 at 21:42
  • OK, fine, it's not absolutely explicit which model OP refers to but I assume he's talking about a MB/MBP.
    – zwerdlds
    Mar 18, 2013 at 22:50
  • i was not critiquing you, mearly clarifying so the questioner get the answer he is looking for!
    – Macmaniman
    Mar 19, 2013 at 10:46
  • Your prolific use of exclamation points may be providing readers with unintended emphasis! :)
    – zwerdlds
    Mar 19, 2013 at 15:02

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