nice write-up ! As DB says, every component in your rig is important to squeeze the extra SQ. In my own experience, I use a Macbook Air but I decided not to even worry about using the internal card. I use the Schiit Bifrost Uber and connect the laptop through USB. These days, USB implementations on DACs, especially the Uber, are very good. If, after careful testing, it looks like you may need to upgrade your DAC, I would unhesitatingly recommend the Bifrost Uber with the USB. This is only my opinion of course. I think the Vali can get you far but I hesitate to recommend it for orthos (if you want to go that route). For most dynamic HPs, Vali is plenty.