I'm a student and as such free spending money is something of a premium of course! However, I am a musician and that side of me has made me scramble for high quality and great sounding gear. After hunting through here, Amazon, PC tech sites, and many other resources, I've come up with a great sounding audio set up for a tight budget. I have used this set of gear for many months and am very happy with its performance! I'll be listing all the equipment with a short description of the product. All prices are USD and sourced from Amazon at the time of writing.
Feedback is totally welcome of course, as I'm sure my list isn't perfect and people will have more input!
Superlux HD-681 EVO ($37.95) or HD-681 ($30.90)
These are pretty well known for being great budget headphones. Balanced sounds that are very pleasing to the ear. Not quite ultra hi-fi but fantastic phones at the price level. They include an additional set of velvet pads (pleather pads stock), a vinyl carrying pouch, and two cables. I personally chose the EVOs, as the highs on them are said to be less sharp which is a personal bugbear of mine. However, for 7-8 dollars less, the HD-681s are a viable option as well but they do have the harsher highs that I mentioned.
Monoprice 108323 Enhanced Bass ($9.43) (Add another $5-$10 if new tips are purchased)
Cheapest component on the list, but sounds wonderful like everything else. Despite the "enhanced bass" label, I didn't find the bass to shake my head. It has a little bit of an "airy" sound compared to the 681s, but this isn't a huge deal. It has a nice fabric cable, but it does seem to crease easily and "pops" a little with movement. A big deal about these to many people are the crappy tips they come with. I was able to fit some Sony ones I already had onto them, but this can be another potential cost.
Behringer U-Control UCA222 ($29.99)
It's a USB DAC. Not sure what else there is to say. It makes the sound come through loud and clear, and it cancels out all of the noise from my the integrated sound card on my motherboard (Gigabyte UD3-970). It has headphone out, RCA out, optical out, as well as RCA in for recording.
This piece is optional if you have a good soundcard in your computer already.
Pyle Home Mini Cube Bookshelf Speakers ($18.00)
Great little speakers that can get to a reasonable volume. Response is great and they are fun additions to the desk top. Not perfect, but they are a bargain bin price without sounding like it. These require some speaker zipwire for amp connection. Most people have some already but if you don't, it's a small investment.
Lepai LP-2020A+ ($16.85)
It feels light and is made pretty cheaply. It drives the speakers at a good volume and very clearly, so it does it's job! It has a "Tone" and "Direct" sound button, however there was very little discernible difference between the two. It has RCA in as well as MP3 in, so it can connect straight into your computer or the UCA222.
So, the whole setup comes up to around $112.22, give or take a little depending on what add-ons you might (or might not) need. This is still less than what some people may spend on a single pair of headphones, yet the sound quality is still very high. I compose and produce Jazz and Electronic music, and I've found that this set up is good enough for me to do that. The sound isn't completely flat and neutral, which may be a drawback for some. Personally I find that it makes casual listening, music and games very fun to listen to as well!
So have fun with this everyone, and I hope it helps those short on cash have a great listening experience!
Edited by Jeremytroid - 1/3/14 at 1:31pm