I’ve read that my late 2013 MacBook Pro 3.5mm jack can be used as for digital output. If true, can I make use of this into a headphone amp?
You can make use of the optical output to go into an external DAC. You just need to get a digital mini toslink cable like this one. If you don’t have an external DAC and just an amp, then that won’t work as an amp needs an analog signal. So in that case you would just be using a standard 3.5mm AUX cable to the RCA inputs of an amp.
Any suggestions for a DAC with an optical input? I see lots online but they are pretty pricey.
The Musical Fidelity V90 is a pretty decent basic DAC. It has good connections, is about $300. Not the most recent generation, so I don’t know if it does MQA stuff, but it’s well known. I have a similarly priced TEAC DAC,
You might check out Audiogon both for recent used ones and for bargains.
Oh yeah, for about $200 the Cambridge DAC MAGIC 100 has had good reviews. I don’t know it, but I’ve been impressed with other Cambridge products for price/quality.
Most DACs above entry level tend to have optical inputs. So Modi 2 Uber or Multibit, iFi Micro Black Label, Audio-gd NFB-11, R2R 11, JDS Labs OLDAC, Topping D30, Micca Origen G2, Xduoo XD-05, FX Audio DAC X6, SMSL M3, etc. I haven’t heard all of those, but that’s a good starting list to consider.
In addition to what others advised, don’t forget to set the output sample rate through the toslink connection. You can set it in “Audio MIDI Setup” after you connect your DAC. The highest 2013 MacBook Pro can go should be 192KHz. Enjoy!
It is also worth noting that if you don’t already have an external DAC, there’s no harm in getting one that is USB input. They are often cheaper and easier to find instead of worrying about optical inputs. Though some companies implement better optical inputs than USB (and some vice versa). If you are looking at budget gear then this isn’t really a huge issue.
This is key! I noticed my Macbook gets weird about sampling rates and I often have to reselect them with different DACs. Audio MIDI Setup is really handy to make sure all your audio devices are set properly. Another neat feature of using Audio MIDI Setup is that you can allow Macs to send audio output to multiple devices simultaneously. So if you had 2 DACs (e.g. one USB and one optical) along with an A/B switch it is super easy to just plug your amp into the switch and then quickly switch back and forth which DAC is active.