I'm a believer or

as I was sampling some of my favorite tracks, upon installing my new speaker wires of course, I came across "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen, no less. It made me a believer!

now, I'm pretty wet behind the ears when it comes to the audiophile hobby, maybe that's why I am still having a hard time believing that I can change the way my sound "feels" pretty much overnight with a pair of new cables... well, in all honesty I got my "new" cables used from a guy on craigslist for fifty bucks. I'm told they are XLOs (as yet of unknown model) with some nice gold connectors. In either case it was well worth it. In retrospect, if I could've sampled them before buying, I may have very easily paid more than that.

even I know that many threads have been dedicated to the issue of wires, so I will spare the details of richer sound, deeper base, a sort of intangible feeling of measurably more substance to the sound and so on. What I would like to put up for discussion is digital to analog.

Since I'm building the system with pretty much no music collection other than a stack of favorite CDs and endless gigabytes of mp3s (my vynil collection from my dj'ing days notwithstanding), I pretty much decided to go the hard drive (or HTPC?) route for my main source of reproduction. What I'm thinking is to get a DAC and connect it to the digital source, plug the DAC outs into the receiver's analog inputs. What's my best choices for DAC's within 300 dollar range? and also, what should I look to spend on quality analog RCA cables? I'm running a pretty basic setup of a Marantz sr5400 and a pair of B&W 602s so far.

Re digital v analog, I hope you are not thinking of plugging a DAC into the 'phono' inputs. This is a NO NO! A phono input has a built in equization designed for phono cartridges. Then there are gain issues to consider.

Now if your Marantz (with which I'm not familar) has no phono pre-amp, just different names for line stage inputs, a DAC will always sound like a DAC. Some units have a 'direct input' stage to bypass other features on the pre-amp which might effect the sound, but none that I'm aware of that will make a DAC sound like a Phono.

Re speaker cable. Welcome to the discovery, however a cautionary by way of example. Years ago I bought some highly touted cable and I was absolutely thrilled with the obvious 'improvement' in the highs. Just fantastic clarity. Then one day I realized that this improvement came at the expense of the bottom end which was eviserated. Take your time in reaching conclusions. :-)
Cable is very system dependent. What sounds good on one system can sound awful on another Evidently, you lucked out...
Newbee, thanks for the advice. As Stringreen put it, I must've lucked out, because I hear "measurable" improvements across the entire range. Maybe the wires I had before were just total crap )))

I am considering a phono setup, naturally - when I used to dj, I always spun only vynil and its kind of a natural for me. However, at this point I simply don't have the budget for a proper phono setup. I believe for that I will need to get a different amp-preamp, not to mention the turntable itself (which, from what I see, can run many times more than my entire current setup).

Until I am ready to go phono, I would like to setup a digital library and am thinking of doing it through the Tape input. I also have an auxiliary input, which is not balanced for phono cartridges either. I will be going through the specs of my amp in more detail obviously, now that I see how some seemingly very small details can change the sound.

Also, I was told that power cables will make a big difference, since I live in an apartment building.
btw, anyone have any experience with MSB Technology iLink iPod adapters? I'd like to connect it to a DAC and see what kind of quality I can get out of it...
nevermind the previous post - at close to 2 grand, MSB just makes no sense vs Wadia iTransport, which goes for $350 new. From what I have been able to gather so far, both have digital outputs and would sound identical with an external DAC, which means that saving 1650 bucks is a no-brainer...