My audiophile PC setup
My current PC audio setup is economical, versatile, and awesome. The key components are:
Note: both links are to the actual stores where I bought them.
The Behringer USB sound card’s RCA outputs are connected to the Fiio headphone amplifier’s line input via an adapter cable.
Now here’s why the combination rocks:
Not counting the cost of the adapter cable (which I forgot to factor in and didn’t get a very good deal on), it costs less than a Fiio E10 (USB DAC and headphone amplifier).
The Behringer sound card works in Linux, MacOS, and every version of Windows starting from XP. It has RCA out and optical out, which means that I can hook up other components (like amplifiers, hi-fi speakers, studio monitors, etc) if I decide to do so in the future. ASIO drivers are available on Windows, and are optional.
Both components are USB devices, meant to be both portable and durable. I can just pack them up, take them with me, and connect them to to any computer. I can also take the headphone amp with me if I want to put it in my pocket and use it with my cellphone.
According to NWavGuy’s review, the UCA202’s main weakness is that its headphone port has a ridiculously high 50 ohm output impedence. This really limits the selection of headphones that work well with it to rare high impedence models. Adding the Fiio amp (which recommends headphones with impedences of 30–300 ohms) solves the problem. It now works great with most headphones, including my 35 ohm Audiotechnica ATH-AD700s.
It gives me a consistent level of quality, which I don’t get if I rely on motherboard DACs. On my laptop, several recent albums (including Torrentz’s The Big Kahuna) sound like walls of non-stop clipping. Now, there’s a loudness war on, but let’s be honest here: if the albums were that broken then they would have been recalled! I’ve also used at least computer which didn’t seem capable of producing bass at all; googling the problem brought up posts wondering what was wrong with the ALSA drivers. You can bet that I don’t have either problem anymore. Where I once heard clipping, I now hear bass.
You can decide to only listen to lossless or high-bitrate audio files, you can spend hundreds of dollars on headphones, but you’re not going to get good audio quality if the weakest link in the chain is between them.