noob; what cheap, small amp/DAC?


Standard Member
i currently use an old sony mini hifi from 1993 (MHC-650, the CD drive broke) to play my music from my PC, using the PCs onboard AC97 sound.

I have a few issues with the current system;
-the sound quality.. specifically;
-theres a lot of white noise from the system when the volume is turned up, but nothing output.
-its a bit bass heavy, 'unresponsive' perhaps. i can't really describe it much beyond that. whilst i do like bass (sometimes), i have to live with people, who aren't so fond- so sounding good at low volume (aswell as higher volume), getting a full spectrum of sound, would be nice. (like a good 'quiet mode'?)
-its 'big'.. well not that big but it sits on my desk with my monitor; and ideally i don't want anything there. other than something small and low that i can adjust the (dial) volume on.
-it (proabably) uses more power than it needs too. and its on most of the time, so i'd like it to not use very much, especially at idle.
-ac97; everyone seems to think its rubbish; i haven't tried better (for extended periods of time) so i don't know. my motherboard supports S/PDIF, so i'd like to use that, which should take the soundcard out of the equation. i assume using the optical would be the best idea, so the signal isn't affected by EMF from the PC?
-the right channel fairly often drops out, which means that i need to either hit it, or firm the connection up.

So i'd like to address as many of those issues as i can.

i'm also using the 'stock' output>speakers wire, which i'm sure is rubbish? can anyone reccomend a good, cheap wire (and where to get it). i'm guessing the basic requirement is just going to be that its sheilded? which i assume the original wont be? i don't want to pay 300% more for 3% increase in quality.

i intend to keep the speakers, atleast for the short/medium term, unless i can get significantly better speakers ~£30. even then, i'd like to keep them for a while so i can tell how they sound with a new amp + S/PDIF, and notice any imperfections myself. upon retiring them i'll probably use them as rear speakers anyway? I would like the amp to outlive the speakers however.. (assuming they don't vastly improve in quality with a new amp)

i'm not a believer in audophile witchcraft; if it can't be picked out as better than something cheaper in a double-blind test, then (all else the same) i'll get the cheaper. However i can see that there may be differences which i can't percieve now, but will in the future after using it day-in day-out.

I'm also a student, so poor. i don't really want to spend more than £50, including wires. but then i'm not really sure what u'd expect to spend; if spending a little more will give a significant increase, then maybe i'll consider it; but ideally i want to spend as little as possible. if it has digital input, is small, sounds reasonable and is £10 then i'd consider it.

Ideally 4 channels or more would be good. but its not a deal breaker. (i'm not sure how many channels optical S/PDIF can take anyway). and to have analog inputs too so that i can use it with stuff that doesn't have digital too would be nice (probably standard?)

would building one myself give me much better quality for the money? i know a lot of people seem to make their own guitar amps... its something i may be open to if so..

edit: how are active speakers? they seem fairly ideal for what i want in theory; other than of course i'd have no amp if i wanted to upgrade the speakers.. and all the volume control would be with windows (which is a bit rubbish). are there ones with optical inputs?
also i use the volume up to about half, perhaps a little more (perhaps the specs are online somewhere) so i shouldn't need something that can power something massively powerful(?).. iirc '300W' was banded about at the time, but i don't know whether that was RMS or what.

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