Hi, binary brethren! I've been examining my options for computer audio recently. I'm a card-carrying (student ID?) member of the iPod generation, so computer-based digital audio is nothing new to me. I have a substantial (>100GB) music library and manage it with iTunes. Currently, I've been upgrading my stereo, as some of you who have read my posts asking for turntable and amplifier recommendations may recall. I've experimented with a couple ways to connect my computer to my system. I tried the painfully muddy Behringer UCA-202 USB I/O interface. At $35, I suppose I should not have expected its DAC to match the one in my $300 NAD 525, but it was not even tolerable. So, that item has taken up permanent residence in my cable drawer, populated chiefly by cheap interconnects and extension cords.
Before I bought the Behringer, I actually let my iMac's sound card feed my receiver directly with an inexpensive 1/8" jack-to-stereo RCA cable and it didn't sound half bad; far superior to the USB interface.
My goal is to achieve CD-quality sound (entry-level audiophile, guys ) from my computer, at least with my lossless files. If I had a bigger budget, I'd go all-out and get myself an Olive Musica, which would do everything I could ask for. Unfortunately, I have to stay grounded in college reality and limit myself a bit more.
As far as I can tell, I have 3 options at my price point (somewhere south of $200, if possible):
1. Stick with the humble but unoffensive mini jack solution (FREE!!!)
2. Purchase a decent used DAC and stream files through an Apple Airport Express and a TOSlink cable
3. Use the Airport with the mini jack cable, utilizing the router's internal DAC, although JA's review seems to indicate that sending the digital signal to a DAC
4. Feed the DAC directly via my computer's mini optical output and a TOSlink. This solution, as well as the mini jack cable, would obviously require having my computer very close to the stereo, which is less preferred logistically.
Is there a setup that I'm missing here? I'd love to hear your ideas. Also, if getting a DAC is the way to go (as I suspect it will be), what are your recommendations for something very affordable that sounds good? I've been thinking about maybe an Audio Alchemy DDE v1.2 or MSB Link III. An optical input is a requirement. If it's good enough to improve the sound of my CD player, that's icing on the cake. That duty would require a coaxial input, which just about every unit has. I want to liberate my files, and will accept small sonic compromises, but not drastic ones. Please feel free to share your experiences with implementing your own systems.