You don't really need the DAC or pre-amp. I use an M-audio SB to a pair of monarchy class-A amps. They drive a pair of B&W N805's. I use the winXP volume control as the PRE. Sounds great with CD's and DVD-A's. I don't listen to MP3's because even at 320K they still sound very flat and lifeless. I do about 90% of my listening at my PC while working/surfering. Good luck.
Yes, your current plan is the best way to get all you can from the MP3s provided your sound card has a digital output. Some sound cards that have a digital output only have it in mini plug form, and not sure what digital cable would go from mini to RCA (certainly there is no fiber cable like that). What I would recommend, and am saving to do for my system, is buy a Creative Labs Audigy 2 Platnium sound card ($200) which has 24/192 DACS and also has a break out box (the Extigy will work but has 24/96 DACs) that allows for fiber or rca style connections. Then you can buy/use a quality cable to make the connection and preserve as much of the signal as possible as it travels from the PC to the DAC. I would also recommend using a fiber cable for very long runs and www.audioadvisor.com last I saw was having a major sale on AudioQuest fiber cables. I think they are 'good' cables.
I had a Creative Labs Audigy 2 Platnnium sound card in my machine breifly. While it was a slight improvement over the original Audigy, I was disappointed with its overall sound quality. I am very happy with my M-Audio sound board. I breifly hooked up an MSD link dac 3 using a miniplug to RCA cable (custom made high quality) and used an Aragon 24K as a Pre-amp. There was a very marginal improvement in sound but all those components were eating up a lot of desk space. As for using fiber cable (toslink) it has the highest jitter rate of all methods which results in data errors and smearing of the music. I would stick to the unbalanced (RCA) connection.
Thanks for the info Prpixel. I'll check out the M-Audio. As far as the jitter goes, does that not directly relate to the quality of the fiber being used, not to mention the source? I have a Monarcy DIP I planed on using, but the statement fiber cables = more jitter is new info to me. I personally am not looing to spend a lot here as I only use MP3s as a way of deciding which artists I want to buy on cd. I want a new sound card since I am a tweak addict (and am in the computer industry), and might as well simple run a wire to what I already own.
I use a setup very similar to the one you descibed in your opening post. M-AUDIO DIO 2496 to Theta DAC to Preamp. I'm very happy with the way it sounds.
I broke down and bought the Extigy, and am very happy with it's sound and also some of it's features. I can understand why one would say the Audigy 2 was only a slight improvement over the Audigy, but then again concider your going from 24/96 DACs to 24/192. Going from my Live card to the Extigy is a huge difference, and I like the ability to take the Exitgy on the road and get 5.1 sound from my laptop. Like most things, its good if it meets your needs...the Extigy certainly does for me.
I've been wanting to play all the cool web radio stations I've been listening to at work (using just a $25 sony earphones hooked to the soundcard of a standard issue corporate Compaq PC) through my fancy 2-Ch stereo at home. After reading this thread & others like it, I went ahead purchased a M-Audio "Sonica" USB gadget. I hooked up my newly aquired Laptop to a "Supratek" tube preamp (+ Air-Tight ATM-2 tube power amp, Kharma 2.2 speakers).
Sure the setup works, in fact it cut out a lot of the line noise I'm used to hearing at work. But the overall sound quality is, well, actually I was quite embarrassed to have put my much loved 2-channel through this experiment. The sound is very dull and lifeless -- not for the a-goners I'm afraid. I'm sure if I had a separate good quality 24/192 DAC (such as a bel canto) it could have made all the difference. But as it is with Sonica's onboard 24/96 DAC, I was not very impressed... For now I'm going back to the earphones for web applications.
Just to add to the fray, I also use an MAudio 24/96 to a Perpetual Tech P-3A and have been very hapy with it. File format is FLAC and occasionally MP3. Good luck.
It's best to use the coaxial output from a soundcard to a DAC and to an amp - avoid using audio output from a soundcard for better quality. Coaxial cable gives best results connecting - also true in connecting a transport to a DAC.
M-audio is pretty good - if you want to spend more for even better quality, check out soundcards from Lymx, or RME Hammerfall - what the pros use.
I've read the reponses in this thread, and I have to recommend to stay away from the Creative SoundBlaster solutions unless you play a lot of games on your PC. If you want high end audio sound from your PC, then consider the RME, Digital Audio Labs Card Deluxe, or even better yet, the Lynx 2 or Lynx 22. These are all pro audio quality cards. To take advantage of the Extigy's higher resolution audio features, you actually have to bypass a lot of the built-in digital sound processors that Creative lumps into their systems. By then, you lose some fidelity. Going to a pro audio solution will provide much better S/N ratios, greater dynamic range and a more natural sound. With the RME and Lynx solutions, you can clock synch the card's digital I/O to your DAC to minimize jitter, a huge source for horrible digital artifacts.
i wonder: do i need a HQ pro card like a RME or the CardDeluxe or is a M-Audio audiophile satisfying enough W H E N hooking the aboves to an highly reputated birdland odeon lite dac upsampler (and then into creek/epos duo)
Sounds like a sweet setup. I heard the creek/epos equipment at the Show and was impressed when it was setup properly. Now, the woman running the demo has a little cold.
dividox, I'm not a fan of spending a lot on a soundcard. The environment inside a computer doesn't strike me as being a good one for digital to analog signal processing.
Instead, for my Windows XP Box, I use an Edirol UX-1D (I think that is the number)--USB audio device with a simple coax digital out. That goes into my Theta Pro Basic IIIa DAC. Sounds as good, I think, as I've ever heard mp3s sound. B'sides, its *cheap* compared to high end sound cards, and you can always change later if you don't like it...
I've also used the M-Audio Sonica, which is a similar device but with toslink optical out. I'm not sure what Jewel Hasan was talking about with the Sonica--there is no DAC on board. Or, maybe the Sonica has changed. Mine was a little blue thing smaller than a pack of cigs with an blue LED that showed when a signal was present, a USB in on one side and a optical connector on the other. No analog conversion.
For a while, I had the Sonica hooked up at the computer, and then a 25' run of toslink to the DAC. I found some powered USB cables, and switched it so it was 25' of USB and the Sonica right next to the DAC. The difference was not subtle. If you have a long run, go with USB.
The Windows XP integration with the Edirol seems more bulletproof than the Sonica. I seem to recall that the Sonica occasionally glitched.