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I have done the same thing with my soundblaster card. The high end ($150+) soundblasters have digital outs. Honestly they don't sound all that great, even going through a DAC. I note that I used a long (6 foot) optical cable. I ended up selling the DAC, and using the equally crummy analog outputs. I speculate the crummy sound was related to the cheapo-depot transports used in computer cd roms.
If it's gonna be bad, it might as well be cheap ! You might want to check out guitar center. They sell some more pro-quality pc soundcards at significant discounts. Note that some of these 'musician' soundcards are not certified compatible for many games.
My son uses a Soundblaster Live Value which has an SPDIF out and runs this to a DAC (ART DIO or MSB Link). The sound through this combination is very good. He also has another sound card that was highly recommended for its digital out, but it doesn't sound appreciably better than the soundblaster. We compared these to a new Denon HDCD CD changer and ended up selling the Denon as it was no better as a transport or as a cd player. The only problem with the soundblaster is that it requires a mini plug for the SPDIF out. We ended up using a TV coax cable with a Radio Shack screw on mini adapter. We have also tried this combo out with a Monarchy DIP which yielded some improvement with the MSB but did not make a difference with the DIO.
Onkyo has announced a new product that is an external DAC for the computer connected via USB port. I think retail is a few hundred bucks, so it's not exactly cheap, but it's a step in the right direction as far as connectivity of a computer and a good sounding audio system.
Another possibility is the Lansonic "player". It connects to a computer via ethernet cabling, and is made to feed a high-quality audio system via analog connections. You can buy it with harddrive storage or plain jane and just use it as a DAC. You can control it from and browser connected to the network.
I keep wondering why it's taking so long for audio manufacturers to come up with these convergence products, as I have to believe there's a demand for them. Maybe not from die-hard audiophiles, but certainly from a lot of music lovers. -Kirk