I suggest you look at a USB converter if two channel is your only concern. Something like Bel Canto's 24/96 unit or Empirical Audio's Off-Ramp.
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I've heard of those who have dropped some long green on such an effort, and gone to a Links card for just such purposes getting the digi info out to a DAC, Transporter, Duet, etc.
I should also think there is some greater good to be had in the spending, but I wonder just how much is that greater good?
Ive gone USB out to a DAC, TOS too, and Coax (BNC) . Analog as well. Bought USB sound cards and fed them into the same DAC mood1 mentioned, BC e one DAC3.
IMO, the best sound Ive been able to develop has come by way of a PCI M Audio 192 Audiophile 24/96 card in my oldest Dell desktop using xp home sp 3 + J river Media Center 12 via a Stereovox xv2 cable to the Bel Canto DAC 3, then into the balance of my system (s)..
The resultant sound is far superior to my previous Sony XA 777es, and several of the newer CDPs Ive heard about my area Cary, Wadia, Cambridge, etc . or as good.
So I suppose one can raise the bar significantly via the output card by spending far far more than the couple hundred bucks an M Audio card costs but the thing for consideration here is then what?
I think the limiting factor, bottle neck, or main item will then be the DAC being fed.
If I had an INT with an onboard dac all in one sort of deal, I dont think Id spend a ton on a card to get a signal into that DAC so it can then do its job . The ONLY consideration Id have there is IF no de-jitterizing is going on in the INT DAC maybe.
The ones Ive seen using the Linx cards were feeding DACs which ran $4k & up.
It is amazing how much info on this subject there is. once i read your suggestions i started search other forums. I even talked to steve at Empirical for a long time.
The empirical and the Bel Canto seem to be the way to go. From what i have been reading it seems that a lap top is the trick. low noise and such. Since i have 3 of them i would not have to build anything. 2 are PC and 1 is a mac It's all a free software thing after that.
I'd not get too, too strung out on the notion that a laptop will always outperform a desktop, sonically speaking.
I have a new toshiba using Vista sp2B. and ran out USB to the BC D3... and raved about the sound too.
then I began to compare, change things about with my desktops, and via my aforementioned notes have decidedly a better sonic presentation through it rather than with the laptop.
Now I should also say this about that... the Dimension 4600 is not stock. The video and ram are both upgraded as is the power sup. it rests upon a damped Sound Anchor rack, with iso devices beneath it, and on it's side too BTW. it's fed by a VD Power III cord whcih is supplied from a PS Audio Duet that is fed from a 20 Dedicated outlet by a Shunyata Python VX.
From it's video card I feed that signal into my Onkyo receiver via HDMI. I can also 'laptop into it' by 3rd party software... but hardly ever do.
I usually just setup some lengthy playlists of varying genres, use the Projector to get started, a lengthy USB cable and hub to connect the keyboard and mouse too... and once into the media player, I just shut down all the video gear and get to getting, with the music.
One consideration in my affair too is the length of the USB cabling IN use. It's about 15 ft long... either way... desktop or laptop!... as my audio system resides in an adjacent room to my dedicated listening/viewing room.
I have personally seen - heard, diffs in USB cables too... by virtue of their lengths primarily. the longer seems least best, generally. Under 10 ft, it matters less, and under 6 ft I don't think it matters at all who made the cable.
so there are any number of additional factors apart from the primary devices at play here too. Consequently, the often apt A'gon caveat is still true here too... "Everthing matters" .... how much it matters, though, is up to you.
" I am looking for a good sound card with s/pdif output for stereo playback..."
Look at RME Hammerfall DSP 9632 soundcard. ( http://www.rme-audio.com/english/hdsp/hdsp9632.htm ) The RME, a 192kHz-capable DAC, provides output to both the analog and S/PDIF jacks - exactly as you wish.
Its not cheap - I believe its priced at about $500 but its very good