So I am now current with the cool kids and got myself a 24 bit DAC (Digital Analog Converter). This one is the highly acclaimed and reviewed Audioengine D1.
I read all the major reviews and even scanned through the customer testimonials. Generally speaking, this gets about 5 stars and is highly rated. However, there was one review where the customer didn't see a difference. He claimed it was "audiophile snake oil." I have to heartily disagree. After the first 15 seconds, I could hear and "feel" the difference. It made everything sound better just using headphones. I tried this on my Macbook, my Thinkpad, and other computers running either OS X or Linux. They all sounded way better. The sound difference may be intangible for some but for me, it was very obvious.
There was better clarity, better soundstage, better imaging. Simply better. Was it worth $170? Yes. This is an amazing piece of high quality gear for the price.However, I was able to score one for $130 on a group buy so I was lucky and if I had to pay full price, I would do it again.
Here, you can go to Audioengine's web page and click on the numerous reviews for yourself. Great reviews in general.
The packaging was nice and you can feel the high grade build quality.
Plugged into the USB port of my Mac, I tested them with 256bit AAC iTunes and it sounds great. Unfortunately, I only bought one. This one is intended to be used as part of an Airplay wireless speaker set-up.
Here, I connect it to the AudioEngine A5 plus speakers for use as an Apple Airplay wireless speakers. The mess of wires are a bit cumbersome so it does require some cable management.
To connect to the Apple Airport Express, you will need a 3.5mm to TOSLINK adapter. Once connected, the Airport Express outputs a digital signal.
Once I cleaned up the wiring, the speakers, DAC and Apple Express Airplay trifecta is pure awesomeness! I'm currently using walnut bent plywood OFFI Mag end table (designed by Eric Pfeiffer) as my temporary speaker stands.
Apple Express + AudioEngine A5+ and AudioEngine D1 DAC == probably the best Airplay solution you can build under $800.