MacBook Pro connection and setup

I’m trying to connect my MacBook Pro (it has USB-C outputs and a headphone jack) to my stereo amp (Cambridge Azur 851A) and I’m unclear on the best way to set things up. I looked at the Roon support article and still had questions.

  1. Should I use the 3.5mm headphone out to dual RCA inputs on my amp (this is what I just tried)? Or should I use a USB-C to dual RCA cable? Is there an advantage of one over the other?

  2. I see that the MacBook has an Audio MIDI setup page. I’m getting sound with the default settings, but I wasn’t sure if I needed to modify any. I have “external headphones” selected with 88,200Hz as the format. Balance is 0.5 and the primary slider is all the way to the right at 1.0.

  3. Roon options are System Output, my external monitor, MacBook Pro Speakers, and External Headphones (which is what I have enabled right now–is this correct?).

  4. I have selected exclusive mode in Roon’s device setup options. The volume isn’t as loud for this source as it is for my PC through a Denafrips DAC to the amp, but the DAC is connected with balanced XLR cables, which I believe I read will result in higher volume.

  5. Is there any advantage to using an external DAC with the MacBook Pro?

Does it seem like I have things set up correctly or am I missing some important details? The attached screenshot shows the signal path. Thanks so much for any assistance you can offer.


  1. I’m not that experienced with MacBook Pro but I can tell that a decent external dac sounds better than the 3.5mm on my Mac mini or iMacs.
    Using a USB-C to RCA I think you will be using the Dac on that dongle instead of the MBP. So depends on the quality of the dongle. I’ve seen lots of people happy with the AudioQuest Dragonfly (red, cobalt, black). You could use that and wires to connect to the rca on amp.
  2. I think those settings are for the internal dac, so change them until you like them, but I suspect that when roon takes over in it’s exclusive mode those settings are redefined by roon.
  3. If you use the 3.5mm it is correct
  4. I think this is right
  5. If you are going to use the MBP as a mobile playing device (in the house) and use Headphones I would get a Dac with Headphone amp, or a Dragonfly.

I hope that there are going to be users more advanced with better advices.
All the best

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Thank you so much for your reply. This is very helpful. A few more questions:

I have an old DacMagic I could use as a desktop DAC. Would this work? I would need a USB-C adapter to use it. Would that affect sound quality at all?

Glad to help

The Dac magic had some good reviews, yes it is old but clearly it would be better than the MBP dac. I think the adaptor is the way to connect (I connected my dac using USB-C to USB-A adaptors). If the adaptor would affect SQ: I do not thing it is noticeable for this dac. I did the adaptor with iFi Zen Dac v2 and with the Dac I use now, CA DacMagic 200M and did not notice SQ changes, maybe if I would have more sensitive dacs and amps and speakers. I used to run from a M1 Mac mini to Dac, balanced to NAD 298 with a pair of GoldenEar Triton 5. Now I inserted a streamer and a preamp, Zen Stream to 200M to LA4 to 298 with triton 5 and 2 subs.

hope it helps,
have fun

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Thank you, again. This is so helpful. I realized my CXN v2 has a USB input that I wasn’t using, so that should take care of the DAC, and I can go from MBP to the streamer to the amp. Kinda of a strange setup, I know, to use the CXN as a DAC rather than a streamer, but I want audio output from the Mac beyond Roon. Grateful for all your advice.

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