I’m quietly impressed the new MacBook Air shows Apple does care for audiophiles
Unveiled at the Cupertino giant’s annual WWDC event, Apple’s best-selling laptop is now just 11.3mm thin and weighs a mere 2.7lb. It’s also the first Mac to contain the M2 faster chip with a 40% faster neural engine, it’s 25% brighter, and everyone is very excited about it for various other reasons.
But two huge improvements in terms of hardware have gone largely unrecognized, and we think certain people might care – and not just rock legend Neil Young.
For the audiophile, the two biggest draws in the latest MacBook Air support for Apple Music’s proprietary and immersive spatial audio from the new Air’s onboard speakers, plus – and this is key – an improved 3.5mm headphone jack that now supports high impedance headphones.
Why is the new headphone jack important?
First off, we need to talk about the best best high-impedance headphones, aka some of the top audiophile cans around. Why? They typically use a much thinner voice coil in their drivers, and so it can be wound without as much air between the individual wires.
When done well, this results in less sound distortion and better, snappier bass reproduction.
So, we should all head out and buy some high impedance headphones then? Well, the downside to all of this accuracy and clarity is that it makes these particular beasts much harder to drive.
To clarify, impedance is a measure of resistance to electrical current, measured in ohms: the higher the figure, the more resistance there is. Low impedance headphones are generally considered to have an impedance lower than 50 ohms. High impedance headphones, meanwhile, could be 250 or even 600 ohms.
Now, the amplifier in a typical smartphone is designed with standard 32-ohm headphones in mind. So, simply plugging high impedance headphones into your average laptop’s headphone jack will result in bad sound quality – and all of that investment will be lost to poor impedance matching.
To get the most from high impedance headphones using a MacBook Air as a source you’d need to be looking at a dedicated headphone amp as well. Until (possibly) now.
Although Apple hasn’t given any concrete specs for the jack other than the happy phrase, “There’s also a headphone jack with support for high impedance headphones”, it still bodes well.
Spatial audio support from MacBook Air’s onboard speakers
When Neil Young slammed the MacBook Pro’s “Fisher-Price” sound quality in a 2020 interview with The Verge, he called it “a piece of crap, are you kidding?” adding, “You can’t get anything out of that thing. If you put it in, you can’t get it out because the DAC is no good on the MacBook Pro”.
Now, whether or not the DAC is changed here remains to be seen, but certainly, the new MacBook Air’s speakers have been tweaked to support Apple Music’s proprietary and impressive immersive spatial audio.
At the time of his interview a couple of years back, Pono creator and champion of high-quality audio streams Young was at least open-minded about Apple products going forwards, saying, “When the quality is back, I’ll give it another look. Never say never.”
Just a suggestion, but maybe now is the time for Mr. Young to take a fresh gander? He might even find himself saying “Hey Hey, My My”…