Eye (and ear) candy for audiophiles

These high-end audio accessories for your Mac and iPod are designed to sound (and look) like a million bucks.

High-end computer audio

Our recent computer speaker and headphone buying guides will help you find some good, reasonably priced audio accessories for your Mac. But if you've got deeper pockets, check out these high-end solutions, each of which is designed to sound—and look—like a million bucks.

Sennheiser HD 800

Hand-assembled in Germany, and hailed by many as the best set of headphones in the world, the HD 800 takes personal listening to the next level. The earpieces incorporate the largest transducers ever used in a set of headphones, oriented to provide an experience closer to hearing audio from speakers or a live performance. Stainless-steel, aluminum, and Leona plastics make the HD 800 sturdy, while plush padding provides luxurious comfort. Alas, you'll need a headphone amplifier to let the HD 800 reach its potential, so read on. [$1400 (compare latest prices); Sennheiser]

NuForce Icon

Many Mac users forego "computer" speakers in favor of traditional speakers and a separate amplifier. NuForce's Icon, available in blue, red, white, or black anodized aluminum, is a diminutive (6 by 4.5 by 1 inches), audiophile-grade integrated amplifier with three inputs and a number of tricks up its sleeve. The Icon's 12-Watt amp can power a set of efficient speakers, but the Icon can also act as a dedicated headphone amplifier, a USB digital-to-analog converter (DAC) for getting the best audio from your Mac to your existing stereo system, or as a pre-amp for connecting multiple sources to a separate system. There's even a dedicated subwoofer output. [$249; NuForce]

Logitech Transporter

The Transporter is Logitech's Squeezebox for those with golden ears (and wallets). Like other Squeezebox players, the Transporter streams digital music from your computer and the Internet, but it's specifically designed for use with lossless and uncompressed music files, sporting audiophile-grade digital-to-analog converters (DACs) and other components, along with multiple analog and digital outputs. You can customize the unit's dual vacuum-fluorescent displays, and you can even use the Transporter's DACs with other digital sources. [$2,000 (compare latest prices); Logitech]

USB Link 24/96

A Mac filled with high-quality audio files can serve as the hub of a high-end music system, especially if you pipe the digital audio signal through a dedicated digital-to-analog converter (DAC). If you've got an older Mac without a digital-audio output, Bel Canto's USB Link 24/96 converts your Mac's USB audio signal (up to 24 bits, 96kHz) to an S/PDIF signal, connecting to your DAC via a BNC or RCA plug. [$495; Bel Canto]


An iPod classic with 160GB of storage is perfect for storing hundreds of hours of uncompressed or losslessly compressed music files—the problem is getting the best audio out of the iPod. Unlike most other iPod docks, Wadia's iTransport dock can access the iPod's digital signal directly, allowing you to send that signal to the DAC of your choice; the anodized-aluminum iTransport can also output analog audio, as well as component- and S-video signals. [$379; Wadia]


B&W's first foray into computer speakers is a beauty, and it aims to perform, as well: The MM-1 features a build-in DAC—you connect the speakers to your Mac via USB—and a digital signal processor to optimize audio output for the system's small size. Even the remote, sourced from the company's Zeppelin, is attractive. [price TBA; B&W]


Want to get high-quality audio to your stereo...wirelessly? The Gem is a Bluetooth receiver that lets you send your Mac, iPod, or iPhone's audio signal over Bluetooth A2DP; the Gem uses its audiophile-grade, 24-bit/96kHz DAC to convert the signal to analog for your stereo system. The Gem can also act as a USB DAC for your computer. The brushed-metal enclosure provides a small window and light for audio geeks to check out the insides. [$799; Chordette via Sumiko Audio]


The Nova is designed to handle all your audio sources. The real-wood exterior hides an 80-Watt-per-channel, hybrid (tube/solid state) integrated amplifier and a built-in DAC; you get USB, coax, and optical digital inputs, as well as multiple analog inputs. There's even a dedicated headphone section for high-end private listening. And if you've got a Sonos ZP80 or ZP90, it slides inside the Nova. [$1199; Peachtree Audio via Signal Path]


Vinyl lovers will appreciate the simple beauty of Pro-Ject's Debut III USB, which aims to bring a bit of the analog high-end to your digital world. The company took the renowned Debut III turntable and added a USB output, letting you connect the Debut directly to your computer for transferring your vinyl to digital. A built-in phono pre-amp lets you hook up the turntable to your stereo system for ongoing listening. [$499; Pro-Ject via SumikoAudio]

Micro DAC and Amp

High-end cans (such as the aforementioned Sennheiser HD 800) crave a dedicated headphone amplifier. HeadRoom's stackable Micro DAC and Amp work together to convert your Mac's digital USB- or optical-audio signal to analog and then provide the power the best headphones need. HeadRoom's proprietary crossfeed filter offers improved headphone imaging, and the Amp can also act as a preamp for your desktop speakers. [$333 each; HeadRoom]

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