Internal vs External Storage

Hi guys, just a general question here. I was wondering if anyone knows if there is an audible difference of any kind between streaming from an internal SSD Drive or an external hard disk (USB C) on a Mac platform. The reason I ask is that it is far cheaper to store your files on an external disk rather than buy more SSD storage on a new mac. I will be using Audirvana Studio as my music app to play the music.

Look forward to your responses and thanks in advance.



I’m using 2 Mac’s here. My good old 2017 MacBook Air which plays my local collection from an external hard disk connected to one of it’s USB ports. My new 2020 M1 MacBook Pro has a copy of my collection on an SD card which is slotted in the USB-C 9 in 1 hub which I’ve connected to one of the USB-C ports.

Before buying my M1, I was using a Lenovo Windows 11 laptop which had my local collection stored on it’s internal SSD. The M1 is hooked up the same way as the Windows laptop was.

Laptop → AudioTrak Prodigy Cube 24/96 Black Edition USB sound card → my good old Philips receiver through Toslink.

There is absolutely no difference here. Everything sounds just the same.

Go with an external SSD/hard drive. Much cheaper to what Apple charges for extra storage. Both my Mac’s have 256 gb storage, which is more than enough for daily use. :smiley:


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I am researching the exact same thing here. I have the three options of storing my music files on the internal SSD of my 2018 Mac Mini (1 TB SSD), an external USB 2 TB SSD (Samsung T5) and an external Samsung 500 GB micro SD card. I haven’t gotten to a final conclusion, but it’s clear that if there are differences, they are minimal. Given Mac’s exorbitant prices for internal SSDs, an external SSD is the cheapest route to go, and certainly not the worst!

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I am using a Windows machine (NUC8i5). I was wondering the same thing as you, so in the past I have been testing through Audirvana/Foobar/Roon with internal SSD, external (USB) SSD and external (USB) mechanical hard drives. I can not reliably hear the difference between them in a (semi) blind A/B test.

My take on it is that the bandwith for playing music is very low and even the slowest mechanical USB hard drive is more than capable to deliver that bandwith without any problems. Also programs like Audirvana/Foobar etc. buffer the music in memory, further diminishing any negative effect (if any) a hard drive (or SSD) can have.

I now use an 8 TB external (mechanical) hard drive for my music library. Ones in a while I still plug in an external SSD (to check) and, nope, I still can not here the difference.

Another advantage of an external drive (vs internal) is that you don’t lose your data if your computer will not boot anymore and you can simply plug it in any computer you want.


Well that depends on how you format your hard drive/SSD. ExFat is no problem. NTFS isn’t either. macOS can read that, but not write to it. Thanks Apple. I’m using NTFS for Mac for that.

But Windows can’t do anything with APFS or MacOS journaled extended which Mac offers. :smiley:

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You are right. I was reasoning too much from my Windows only perspective :smile:

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Thanks guys, very helpful. My take-away is that there is probably no discernable difference between the quality of music sound whether it is stored on an internal or external drive. On that basis I will go for the smaller internal drive.

Cheers Mark.

:notes: :eye: :headphones: :eye: :notes: @organm On my MBP I pay very close attention to the USB bus hierarchy… I do not put my external drive on the same USB bus as my DAC and would never use the system drive as the storage device for my music library…

The quoted insights below are from the inventor of Asynchronous USB protocol, Gordon Rankin, found in this article:

“For optimum results, at least in theory, it’s best not to use a USB hard drive for your library with a USB DAC connected to the same host device. Think of it this way: your music software is reading from the hard drive in a synchronous manner and then writing to the DAC in that same synchronous manner and, as the DAC has priority, the music software might fault when reading the disk – this can lead to really bad sound.”

“Also, it’s probably best not to put the library on the system disk – because system stuff has really high priority over music playback software and again the music software can fault and bad sound will result. When a music app faults it becomes NON-bit true. One workaround for this is to choose a music app with memory buffering but in my experience, even that’s not guaranteed to be 100%.”

“A good example of this is when we transitioned from Full Speed USB to High-Speed USB DACs. A lot of the really expensive USB cables from audio companies failed miserably; I doubt many of these cables were even tested for High-Speed compliance.”

“To summarise: the problem with USB Audio is that Isochronous USB frames are not error-correcting. Therefore the sonic outcome of any USB system is dependent on the host to device differential.”

Thanks, interesting article. So where is the best place to store your FLAC files for playback?

:notes: :eye: :headphones: :eye: :notes: @organm …I’m a headphone-centric audiophile.

15" MacBook Pro w/TouchBar (2016)
2.7 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7
16 GB 2133 MHz LPDDR3
macOS 12.3.1

The MBP feeds a Thunderbolt 3 PCIe expansion chassis via a WireWorld USB 3.1 cable, positioned at the top of the system’s 3.1 bus hierarchy… I use the WireWorld USB3.1 cable instead of Thunderbolt 3/4 cable because of it’s superior design architecture and performance as compared to a standard high-quality TB 3/4 cable… The expansion chassis hosts an ElFidelity AXF-107 “Magician” Max Power Purification PCIe card, for power/noise filtering/conditioning/stabilization, and hosts a Sonnet Technologies four-port USB 3.1 card with four independent controllers, using only one output… the other three are screened with AudioQuest USB caps.

The USB 3.1 output from the Thunderbolt 3/4 PCIe chassis feeds and powers an iGalvanic isolation/filter/re-clocker, via a WireWorld USB3.0 cable… the iGalvanic feeds my TEAC DAC via a WireWorld USB2.0 cable…

The entire system architecture resides on, and star-grounded on, it’s own power ‘island’, being quad-filtered and augmented by an ADD-Power EAU2 harmonic resonator on the mains power, for extreme noise reduction. The power cables to the DAC and my HPA are WireWorld…

I use USB 3.x cables because the signaling-lines are separated from the data-lines in the cable architecture. (no adapters)… The USB2.0 cable is a very short lead to the DAC.

Audirvana Studio 1.12.2 is configured with SoX enabled for modulation of PCM to DSD128 being fed by 112DB’s “Redline Monitor” HTRF audio-units plugin…

My library HDD lives at the top of the hierarchy of the system’s USB3.0 bus architecture… I find that separating the HDD USB3.0 data input feed from the USB3.1 data output feed to the PCIe expansion chassis, provides an audible improvement in sound-quality, most likely due to noise/jitter reduction from various operational interference.

I take great care to remove electro-mechanical interference and RF and EMF interference through a diligent and conscientious approach to noise mitigation/suppression. My cable internet feed passes through a Jensen galvanic isolator…

This works for me in my unique personal system environment…

I mean this in a friendly way, you, sir, are weird.

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Thanks for sharing this. I had my external Hard Drive and DAC on the same USB bus. I have now rectified this situation by re configuring where these devices were connected.
Good information.

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I’ll bet he won’t be noticing any difference.

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Sounds the same as far as I can tell but the upside is my external HD were my Music Library is stored is now on a USB 3.0 bus instead of the 2.0 bus previously.

:notes: :eye: :headphones: :eye: :notes: … I presume the majority do not go to the extents that I do to eliminate noise induced jitter potentials in their system architecture configurations… So I understand why any given amalgamation of system components and electro-mechanical environment, may not be able to reveal the subtleties of lowered jitter coefficients.

You went way over the top and I would question the sanity of some of the choices. Not that it hurts, it’s just overkill.


:notes: :eye: :headphones: :eye: :notes: @bitracer …prove that it is “overkill”… Another factor that plays into this is the level of ones listening skills as opposed to hearing acuity…

Hi sandofarrakis,
No audible difference. I have 5 external harddisks connected to a mac mini 2020 that has an internal ssd. The internal ssd I only use for apps like audirvana.

agoldnear, more like agoldimagination.