From what I've gathered, most, if not all of the netbooks, have the same quality audio outputs. Could just depend on the brand of the integrated sound card, and audio drivers. I'd go for the more recent Asus Eee PC 1005HA (1.66Ghz, 160GB HDD). Nice looks, exceptional battery life (up to 10.5hrs.) and some Sennheiser PXC250s to keep with the portability idea. I don't know enough about USB DACs (yet) to suggest any specific one.
I went to Best Buy this morning to try out a few of the ones that i"m interested in along with some 320k mp3 files on a usb stick (the only format i was sure would play on any machine they may have without installing software)
Using my Ety 4s as phones and the headphone out
HP Mini: most neutral sound, but could not get it very loud
Asus 1005 HA- muddy bass and an intermittent high pitch whistle
Toshiba NB205- lacking in bass but otherwise quite good and I'm suspecting that i could adjust for that with software.
Still on my list to look at, Dell Mini 10 and the new Sony W.
That one I had not heard about but the best buy guy said they had sold them to a couple of musicians already because it allegedly has very high quality in and out. Best Buy sells that model but the store was sold out.
I like the feel of the Toshiba so far and it's also got monster battery life (8 hours)
Originally Posted by grawk /img/forum/go_quote.gif Is that it gets loud what determines the sound quality for you?
no but it has to get loud enough. The HP played to quietly even at maximum: about what would be 4 out of 10 on an ipod.
I bought the sony this morning (the best buy guy may have been on to something)and am charging it up now and loading it. It sounded quite good in the store. I like the screen but it only comes with a 3 cell battery standard so i ordered the 6 cell
More as I try it out with my files
I use Peltor noise cancellation headphones to absorb air conditioner and vehicle noise (coming from outside the building, I don't use them while driving). I find they are really terrible about picking up 60 cycle a/c line hum from my Lenovo laptop and Asus EEE netbook headphone out, though surprisingly not from my officemate's Mac pro. I bought a Headroom Total Bithead dac/amp with the idea of pure digital coming from the computer, but found that the 60 cycle crap still comes through the dac/amp, a sign of cheesy design. Maybe the Pico is better. I don't notice this effect with passive headphones but in the environments I listen in, the ANC is indispensable no matter how badly it otherwise messes up the SQ.
I also found that there were occasionally audio glitches, especially if I did something demanding on the computer. I could use a separate computer just for audio, but in the end I said "screw it" abd bought a Cowon D2, which is what I use now and am pretty happy with.