Apple MacBook Pro 13 with Touchbar Review: Audio
Author:Soomal
Source:eng.soomal.com

Rate:10.00/10

In 2016, the Apple Macbook Pro 13/15 retina with Touchbar [Macbook Pro 13 with touchbar] is the first Macbook Pro laptop which is totally updated in terms of design (Noted: Both 13 inches and 15 inches refer to the diagonal length of the screen whose unit is inch, written for short as customary). The significance of Touchbar does not lie on how useful the OLED touch keyboard, but that its inside design is completely different with the shortcut keys version (retina Pro 13 without touchbar). The renewal includes completely-newly designed circuit board, cooling system and battery layout (the new product has a smaller and lighter battery). The most influential updating embodies the brand new cooling system, the CPU with a better initial configuration£¬SSD via PCI-E£¬and certainly a new loudsperker system. This time, the 2017Macbook Pro 13 Retina with Touchbar is almost the same with the 2016 version for the inside design, except for aspects like CPU and SSD.

  • Source: Self-purchasing
    Type: Mass produced
    Commercial Relationship: No

Brand-new loudspeaker design: Since we don't have a retina Pro 13 without touch bar, we haven't disassembled one. So, the following discussion will show a great number of pictures borrowed from ifixit.com/teardown. Firstly, we'll begin with the 2016 Macbook Pro with Touchbar. It is equipped with a huge vent on both the screen spindle and the body's left and right side. The picture shows the side comparison between the 2016 Macbook Pro with and without touchbar. Actually the 2012 version Macbook Pro 15 also has a vent here, but the vent is divided into several parts.

In the aspect of cooling, the main force should be the vent at the spindle, for its the air outlet of the two heat pipe radiator fans. The large openings on two sides make an effect of cooling indeed, and certainly they also play a part in the new speaker system to amplify.

From iFixit
From iFixit

In the teardown picture, we can see the inside "voice cabinet" on the left and right side for the first sight. Since iPad Pro, Apple has begun to put the speaker into a specific cabinet to improve the audio quality, regardless of the obvious reduction of inner space. This can be seen apparently on a 12.9 inches iPad Pro. And the new MBP, compared to the normal version, also loses space for battery because of these two voice cabinets.

However, if we notice those thickly dotted small holes that seem to be made for the horn on the sides of keyboard frontally, we can find that they can't match to the position of the voice boxes at all. Therefore, ifixit marks the positions of holes and voice boxes respectively with red and orange rectangles. Why does not they match? Are the holes made only for decoration?

According to the actual experience, maybe 90% of those holes' function is truly for decoration. As is shown in the picture, there is still a speaker near the holes' center, which takes charge of treble. Through the step-by-step teardowns by ifixit, we can easily understand the new design of the Macbook Pro's speaker configuration, namely the new design of inside voice boxes. According to the actual use, it would still make specific influence on high-frequent audios to cover the whole area of holes (in the lower part) with hands (in fact the influence is much smaller than the Macbook Air keyboard covered by the protective film). But don't forget about the long openings on two sides which become the main force to spread sounds instead. Judged through subjective hearing, although Macbook Pro with Touchbar has already been equipped with a treble speaker, the lower speaker also has a good extension for treble. The subjective hearing experience would be worse apparently only when the frequency up to 8kHz, and the worsening is not so heavy--the speaker is put there only to enrich the details of high-frequent sounds. According to the subjective hearing experience, Macbook Pro doesn't have a strict audio frequency distribution. When using the laptop normally, the bigger "voice cabinet" spread sounds downward to the table, and the sounds will get reflected. The high-frequency loss will be relatively serious. However, the inner tweeter will make up. If we use an external monitor (it would be quite convenient if we connect one with Thunderbolt 3), close the lid or use the laptop vertically, most sounds can still be well-played. Certainly, the high-frequency details get much worse indeed.

From iFixit
From iFixit
From iFixit
From iFixit

Such design can make us hear the sounds when we connect an external monitor or close the lid. At least the voice call of Facetime can be carried out. As for the position of mic? Not found.

Ports: There are only two kinds of ports on the new Macbook Pro with Touchbar, the Thunderbolt 3 and 3.5mm analog output/input. The 3.5mm jack has no longer the function of S/PDIF, but enables both single track input of mac and the compatibility of MFi drive-by-wire equipments.

Type-C port has a common shape with Thunderbolt 3. If we are going to external USB DAC/AMP we can connect Type-C with all kinds of cables, since they don't need the MFi certificate and are really cheap and easy-to-obtain. Unexpectedly, the cables available for Type-C are so plentiful that they can almost connect to all kinds of USB. Thanks to mobile phones, instead of laptops. With either Micro USB 2.0 or USB-B port (online buyers prefer to call it USB printer port), we recommend that the adapter should be bought.

Objective tests

According to the teardown by ifixit.com, from the 2016 Macbook Pro to the 2017 Macbook Pro and iMac, the devices all adopt the new audio chip of CirrusLogic whose type is CS42L83. The chip should be a multi-functional CODEC (or a normal one). The driven program for DAC is identified as CS8409 within windows for an unknown reason, and the driven program and equipments for ADC are unable to be seen. But the inner mac's pickup is quite good. The ADC only supports 44.1kHz and 48kHz sampling rates for input and output.

Here are results of objective tests to the earphone jack of Macbook Pro 13 retina with Touchbar. The electrical output level of the earphone jack is -6dB.

From iFixit
Testing Item 44.1kHz 48kHz
Noise Level, dB -96.5 -96.8
Dynamic Range, dB 96.5 96.8
Total Harmonic Distortion(THD), % 0.0008 0.0008
Intermodulation Distortion, % 0.0045 0.0043
Stereo Crosstalk, dB -97.3 -97-6

According to objective tests and frequency scanning, the objective indicators are quite good, close to the theoretical level, and the frequency scanning and separation are also terrific. But why is iPhone's Stereo Crosstalk so bad?

Subjective hearing experience

Firstly, let's talk about the hearing experience of this new speaker system. We have compared it with the 2012 Macbook Pro 15 retina [2014Mid] and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and there's no need to compare with Macbook Air. It's a pity that we don't have the 15-inch Macbook Pro with Touchbar and the 13-inch old version. The new speaker system makes sounds more clear and improves the resolution greatly. Compared with the 15-inch old Macbook, the resolution of mids has increased a lot even if the feeling quality of low and medium frequency has reduced. Maybe thanks to the advantage of bigger size, the tone of the old 15-inch Macbook Pro is a bit softer. But the great quality in medium to high range is an advantage of Macbook Pro 13 retina with Touchbar[2016], for its tone is clear and delicate, and the style is more straightforward.

Compared with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, the tone turning of Macbook Pro with Touchbar is quite different. We have mentioned in the speaker review of the 12.9 inches iPad Pro that its output sound pressure and low frequency dynamics have exceeded those of the 15-inch Macbook Pro retina. But compared in details, iPad Pro is only slightly better. In relation to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, 13-inch Macbook Pro pays more attention to sound details and lower distortion, and at the maximum volume, the output of the sound pressure is not very high. If you try to put a piece of background music with Macbook Pro, its performance will not be as good as iPad Pro definitely. But since 2016 iPad Pro and iPhone, Apple has raised the output power of speakers apparently, to the extent that their shells and screens can even shake because of the sounds, Of course, the new Macbook Pro is better than iPad Pro in details if we listen to music at a small volume, but only in this circumstance. And iPad Pro can be used to play games, watch movies in a showy manner. Its sounds in the same volume is quite astonishing. Although there are so much improvements above, their vocal space is so limited that they are still inferior to the external speakers.

The output sound quality of the earphone is a little plain. And there would be no fiber output (it is unknown that whether the old 13-inch Macbook Pro and the 15-inch Macbook Pro with Touchbar is equipped with one). It seems to be a bit disappointing. The combination of CirrusLogic and Apple products is fairly stable, with the earphone output sound style similar to that of the iPhone 7 plus earphone adapter. The driving power are basically the same, and the Macbook Pro has a slightly larger output power. For bass and low-to-medium frequency, the feeling of quantity of Macbook Pro's earphone is relatively more in details. But something awful is that the quality in high frequency is really so bad.

Conclusion

The brand new speaker design of Macbook Pro with Touchbar is attracting. Since iPad Pro, the practice of building the speaker into a small cabinet is also used in devices with smaller volumes (even in phones). They actually take up a lot of space, even leading to the sacrifice of lots of battery space. But to improve the quality of sound, it is obviously that the manufacturers believe such sacrifice can be accepted. Moreover, thanks for ifixit's teardown pictures. Since the USB external audio equipment has become the mainstream of all kinds of audio applications, you actually need external equipment to experience higher-level audio applications.

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