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Hey guys!
I just joined Head-Fi, looks like a really cool community. I'm also a member at, where I posed a few of the same questions as I have here, and now I'm looking for some additional advice.
To begin, I'm totally not an audiophile--but I'd like to become one. I don't have much to spend on the hobby at the moment, but I'm working my way up. 
Recently I purchased a pair of Swans D1080MkII 08's. I'm loving them so far (they took months to arrive!), and I'm in the middle of composing a review (I'd like to find a pair of M-Audio AV40s to compare them with first).
My Swans are connected to my desktop via "green" analog to red/white RCA inputs on the back of the right speaker.
I noticed that if I plug my Swans into my motherboard's onboard (Realtek) audio, and turn up the volume all the way, they do not sound NEARLY as loud as they do when plugged into my Creative X-Fi Xtreme Music.
In fact, through the X-Fi, they get nearly twice as loud! Mind blowing loud, even. And with absolutely NO distortion (something I'm loving about these Swans!). Even the flex of the 3.5" woofers is nearly doubled!
Now I'm attributing that to the X-Fi's preamp... And I like what I hear. But here's the problem:
I'm about to buy a new unibody macbook pro, and I'm afraid that with the lack of a dedicated soundcard, I'll be limited to its "puny" onboard audio output--and subsequently "puny" volume levels--and that's assuming that the macbook's onboard is even on par with my desktop's onboard!
Now I think the solution is a DAC of some sort, one that connects to the macbook via USB or this:


A lesser known feature found on every MacBook is the support for fiber optic audio out. This feature allows users to hook their audio out into high end TVs and home theater systems with a mini-TOSLink cable via the headphone jack on the MacBook. The mini-TOSLink cable looks almost exactly like a standard 3.5mm stereo audio cable, but it carries audio digitally via fiber optic cables. This increases audio quality dramatically. Its a pretty clever design, obviating the need for another stand alone port.


I'm also not sure if I need a standard DAC or a DAC/Amp? My Swans are ACTIVE, meaning they have an amp built in--but I like what the X-Fi's preamp has done and want that to continue (even if that means it's being "amped" twice?).
Basically I want an external DAC/soundcard/preamp/whatnot that will allow my Swans to get as loud and clear when plugged into my macbook pro as they would when plugged into my desktop's X-Fi. I want to take full advantage of everything they have to offer, and not have them limited by my macbook's output. 
My budget isn't much, I'm only really willing to spend <$200.
Any recommendations or further advice would be truly appreciated. :)
 <-- Now that's what I call a smiley!