Right now I'm seriously trying to get fairly good audio on a pretty tight budget. I'm looking for a good upgrade path to follow, but I have huge amounts of options it seems. This is for a computer setup with space issues that can be stretched but not infinitely. I need pretty much everything, but not all at once as I have some low level stuff that works pretty well and will suffice while I'm upgrading each component. The things I need are:
1. A source of audio- an internal sound card, external DAC, amp, ect.
2. A set of speakers- 2.0 or 2.1
3. Heaphones- already pretty much decided on sennheiser hd558.
The first item I am searching for is the audio source. Around 100 dollars for everything is where my budget is at. Currently looking at the Soundblaster Z, good reviews, features, and the mic would be useful. I am a gamer so the surround through headphones would be very nice and useful. However a DAC and Amp with a Toslink input that supports DTS or other surround (my motherboard supports 5.1 through toslink and has a coaxial out, but I'm not sure if that supports surround, msi z87 g45) through the headphone jack would be perfectly acceptable. I do not know if this exists however, so it isn't a requirement. Another useful connection to have would be the common four single speaker wires so that I might steal my sony mhc-ec55 radio's speakers. But this is not necessary as it only has to be able to connect to and power both the speakers and headphones. I have also considered the lepai 2020a+ and the Soundblaster Z in combination.
Next on the list, also around 100 dollars is a set of either 2.1 or 2.0 speakers. As I have mentioned before I can poach the speakers from my sony mhc-ec55 and use internet radio to combine my music sources. These are pretty big though, I have no real clue about their comparative audio quality, and they only connect through speaker wire. I have seen numerous references to the Dayton B652 and lepai 2020a+ combination and this seems maybe a little cheap, a bit below my budget, with some improvements that could be made pretty cheaply. The active solutions I have seen are the Creative Gigaworks t40 series ii and the t20 series ii. The m-audio av40 or av30 seem just too dicey. If there is a source for the Swans m10 here in America I would definitely buy them. I don't know about too many 2.1 systems, but am not against them in any way, beside the fact that the sub would be below my desk. I don't want to buy from ebay or craigslist, too many variables that could really negatively affect the purchase and product. As these are going to hooked up to my pc they have to work as near feild monitors, but it would be great if they could function well enough to fill a dorm room. Keep in mind that these are just things i have found and are not the only options I will consider. A later sub woofer purchase can be fitted outside the 100 dollar budget as long as the speakers are acceptable without it.
The headphones mentioned are more for reference for the audio source, as they are the last thing i plan to purchase and I see no reason not to get the hd558. I currently have the Koss UR-40s for music and the Corsair Vengeance 1300 for gaming.
I do not feel constrained by anything other than speaker space and budget. If modding the lepai is the best bang for the buck then I'm willing to try that. I am not going for a super hi fi solution, more of the top of the just enough spectrum, not bad, but not excessive. The budgets can be shifted so that an 80 dollar source leads to a 120 + speaker system, and so on, or vice versa. In terms of my chosen audio I like a bit of bassier genres but do not require ear hurting chest thumbing sound pressure, and listen to everything else as well. I game and music about 50/50 but consider the music more important to focus on for purchasing audio equipment. I am very much a novice but not afraid to delve into technical details and jargon. Anything that would work in some way is fine to suggest, as with a small budget, least amount of failure is usually how it goes. I live in central America, and have access to a Guitar Center,a Best Buy, and various local music stores. When i say upgrade path, btw it's that I wont purchase everything at once, more like part by part while trying to get the most from each part upgrade choice. Around, as always for me means if there is a higher cost item that is still reasonable in price but much better will be considered equally, also going down in price for no real loss is fine.
I am happy to answer any questions, Thanks for reading, commenting, or providing advice of any kind!