Traditionally, high quality home audio has been the realm of elitist audiophiles with $10,000 speaker cables and other over-the-top paraphernalia. The humble PC has never been part of the high-quality audio scene, but the landscape has been shaken by the introduction in recent years of a variety of compact audio setups and components that can transform your PC into a great audio hub.
A digital-analog converter performs the same function as the sound card built into your PC’s motherboard (or inserted into an expansion slot). The main difference is that a high quality DAC will connect to your PC externally via USB, cutting out all the electrical interference that exists within a computer case. The end result is high quality, crystal-clear audio that can be readily output to an amplifier.
There are plenty of competitors in this market, but they all accomplish the same task in the end: converting digital audio into analog electrical signals. If you need a high quality audio solution a DAC is an utter necessity.
Our pick: Kingrex UD-01
What’s Hot: Massive sound quality boost over on-board audio, simple set up.
If you’re sitting at a PC you don’t want a massive, power-hungry amplifier sitting next to you and setting the room on fire. A good compromise between power, heat and sound quality can be found in the Class D and Class T amplifiers becoming more popular in the enthusiast computer audio market.
Originally intended for car audio and integrated speakers, these amplifiers don’t offer a great deal of output power — so they’ll need to be paired with efficient speakers — but they have the advantage of a tiny footprint, low heat output and clean audio.
Our pick: Kingrex T20
What’s Hot: Warm sound, tiny footprint, great looks.
Speakers are the most important part of any sound system; you’ll notice a larger difference in changing or upgrading these than any other component. Speakers for a computer audio setup need to be small — definitely no larger than a bookshelf-sized speaker such as the Yamaha Soavo 2. They often use clever porting and speaker designs to draw maximum sound and richness from small enclosures. For maximum gain, your speakers will need to be efficient in order to work well with a low-powered audio amplifier.
Our pick: JohnBlue JB4 Mk2
What’s Hot: Beautiful construction, smooth and sweet sound.
With the addition of some quality music — preferably stored in a lossless audio format such as FLAC — your humble computer has the potential to become an audio system capable of doing even the most demanding music justice.