My hi-fi journey has evolved in ups and downs, back and forth from believer to skeptic. Recently since discovering the sound science forum I feel more informed than ever. But also more skeptical in a lot of ways. I'm starting to believe a great deal of we call "hi-fi" is just EQ. Given that you have a reasonable source (and IMO the onboard output from a 2013-made high-end motherboard is certainly reasonable), an amplifier that can deliver enough power (even if it's reaallly cheap), the only thing that matters is the speaker/headphones. And even in that case, a great deal of differences can be "fixed" with EQ.
I did an experiment today. I borrowed my friend's pair of Grade SR-225's. I've owned these in the past and absolutely hated them. I downloaded a plugin graphic equalizer (supposedly better than the built-in one) for Foobar and set up this ridiculous EQ curve according to the SR-225's frequency response graphs. I then further skewed it for my own taste. I had the bass at 100hz at +15dB.
Guess what? The SR-225's sounded AMAZING. Tight powerful bass. Not much extension in the really low hz but still, they didn't sound anything like Grado's. I had expected there to be crazy distortion with using this much EQ but it turns out there is none audible at all (makes sense as all changes are are in negative dBs).
Now, I'm not saying a $50 pair of computer speakers can be EQed to sound like floorstanders or anything like that.
Just that within equipment of the same category, you can use EQ to make one setup pretty much sound like another.
I believe this especially true for amplifiers and DACs. I'm starting to believe there is nothing at all to DACs except EQ. And as long as an amplifier can deliver enough clean power, there is not much difference either. Aren't tubes basically just another type of EQ?, etc...
Just felt like ranting... I still love this hobby but the more I get into it, the I believe "Visual Placebo", "Price Sticker Placebo", "Pretty Tube Glow", and EQ makes up the majority of sound difference between equipment.