From a recent newbie to all of the current newbies who are feeling out the whole hi-fi headphone situation, I just want to give my unqualified advice. I felt I was missing out on "hearing" the best I could, so I embarked on my journey of testing out hi-fi audio equipment. I got a Zero Dac, a little Dot MKII tube amp http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/393573/sold-brand-new-little-dot-mk-2-ii-170-shipped, Beyerdynamic DT 770-PRO Headphones (for $108 on Amazon, I'm a lucky smuck) and Sleek SA6's IEMs. Disclaimer: I am not by any means an expert in any area of audio science. I Ab-x'd all of my equiptment. What I learned was that headphones made the biggest difference. I could not tell any difference between the tube amp and my cheap sound card output (with my high-end headphones), hence I sold it (although my friend could just barely notice a difference between the two in favor of the tube amp). I also couldn't really tell that much of a difference (i.e, none at all) between my Zero DAC and my sound card output (although I did keep it). I Ab'xed lossless with LAME compression at V7 with numerous songs and found it to be transparent with my relatively high-end equiptment. This may make me a freakishly non-discerning listener; however, this is what I found. Even with my "crappy ears," I can clearly notice a difference between Sleek SA6's and more-so my Beyerdynamics and normal quality headphones. If you are a newbie, please start by buying higher quality headphones. I'm sure most of the people on this forum have freakishly acute hearing. Therefore, they are plagued by their ability to hear the difference in the equipment they discuss. I do not have any hearing disability that I am aware of (I think the ability to hear the differences in some of this equipment is related to perception abilities rather than pure sensory abilities). Therefore, for the "normal person.," my unqualified opinion is that the headphones make the biggest difference, up until what most people on this forum consider "medium quality" headphones. To all of the experts: please chime in with why my statements don't make sense. Thanks. Edit: Sorry for not paragraphing the original post. It was a late night impulsive rant, so good writing structure fell by the wayside.