Welcome, Zroeder. Maybe I can offer a suggestion or two.
Sorry, I can't address the issue of the best sound card to provide you with a digital stream from your computer because I know nothing useful about the Windows environment - I'm a Mac user. Assuming, however that you get your music out to a DAC, I can offer a simple solution from that point which addresses your question of feeding two amps (integrated and headphone) from your DAC.
The analog output from any DAC is like any other line-level output and is usually available from an RCA connection. Monster Cable (perhaps others as well) makes a high quality three way connector (splitter) consisting of one male and two female RCA connections. Attach these splitters to the DAC outputs, and use any single end interconnects to feed both your headphone amp and your integrated amp. Because you'll not be using the two amps simultaneously, you'll get just you want with no potential problems.
I've used that approach to feed my Musical Fidelity headphone amp (it has only one input) from both a CD player and an iPod, and it is completely satisfactory.
A curious question: Given your budget allocation for integrated amp and speakers one might suppose that you place the higher priority on headphone listening. What integrated amps and speakers have you considered?
Wow, thanks for the simple solution! For some reason I assumed that there would be a problem with noise and such. I guess that's why we have The Entry Level .
To answer your question, yes, I do currently place a higher priority in my headphone listening. This is probably due to owning a nice set of headphones more than disliking stereo speakers. I
The speakers I most want to hear (again, I
I guess that's why we have The Entry Level .
And for enthusiasm like yours. (And for cross-country trips to a new apartment, and for years off from school...)
Thank you both for being so welcoming!
A couple quick questions: Should any DAC appropriate for my headphones also be a decent match for speakers & amp, and would anyone like to recommend their favorite DACs with USB inputs?
Here's the list I've been looking at, for your convenience...remember, less than $400!
DACs are pretty much all purpose - if the output sounds great on 'phones it will be great with speakers.
The jury is out on USB inputs. USB has traditionally not been a good method to transfer digital audio for a whole bunch of technical reasons. So far those that I ahve heard do not sound as good via the USB input as they do via S/PDIF (coaxial) or TosLink (optical) inputs.
That is an amazing list of DACs!!!