The following situation seems really common on AK these days: "I have this modest semi-vintage setup hooked up to my laptop/tablet/office-PC/etc., and I think it sounds pretty okay. Should I invest in one of these DACs everyone's talking about?" This usually leads to a discussion involving what's really the lowest price bracket of DACs (<$150 or so), and mediocre-to-pretty-decent gear beyond the DAC. The consensus is usually a resounding "YES!!!!". I thought a less eager general response might be helpful, so I'm running my mouth as follows. If you have speakers worth thousands of dollars fed by high end gear, I'm not talking to you in this post - get a DAC, and get a good one. That's not a statement of "you guys with your cheap crap can't hear what's good about a good DAC", I'm just acknowledging the spectrum between people with the a level of gear (and disposable income) that leaves them happy to pay thousands of dollars for a miniscule improvement vs. people with a few hundred dollars worth of gear considering spending a few hundred dollars to improve that same gear. It's a big difference. So... 1. You've got a CD player you like, right? Hook that up to the same setup you're thinking about, and play whatever is a good reference CD for you. 2. If you haven't already, rip that same CD to a lossless format and put it on whatever computer source is in question here. You can also just play it from the CD drive, if we're talking about a computer that has one. There are some issues with live CD playback vs. carefully ripped file, but I really don't think that matters for this. Now start playing it back from the computer source, and try to match the volume you listened to on the CD player. Once you get it about right, pause it. Do you hear noise from the speakers? If possible, play with the volume(s) on the computer and on the amplifier, and see if you can find a combination that hits the same volume but with less noise when you pause it. Make sure these volume settings aren't resulting in distortion when you actually play the music. Also, while it would be normal to have maximum or near maximum volume on the computer source, if any extreme volume settings other than that at any point are needed, it could be a problem. 3. Now, with your new volume settings, play the lossless files again listening closely, and then go back and play the CD at the same volume. Do you think you can hear a difference? I promise you, even if taken to blind ABX tests or speaker measurements, it could be anything from truly dramatic, to something you can barely pick out in ABX with practice, to nothing. If a lot of people doubt this wide range exists, I'm pretty sure I could prove it with stuff I have on hand, but I think experienced folks would agree? Anyway, I'm guessing the most common difference would be pretty significant, but hey, how many setups like this have I really experienced this change in? Maybe five or six, honestly, so the only thing I really know is that there are enough variables to give wide ranging results for different setups, and that this simple test is reasonable, as far as subjective non-blind tests go. 4. So, of course, the idea here is that if the CD player won, you should consider a DAC. However, is the DAC going to cost more than the speakers? That's a red flag right there. I might (and have) recommended a DAC anyway, just because it's a really really nice thing to have around if you're going to be messing with computer audio at all. Nonetheless, if we're talking about $100 vintage speakers and $75 vintage receiver, I'm not sure the priorities are in the right place if you're about to buy a $100 DAC for sound quality. It's still not a foolish purchase, exactly, but don't expect miracles if you don't have obvious problems currently. 5. "But, what about hi-res files that my computer can't output without a new DAC?" Honestly, this is not something to worry about for the level of gear I'm talking about here. I'm not sure it's something to worry about for any level. Call it opinion if you like. There are huge benefits to recording and mastering with high resolution formats, when the gear is up to doing it well. Noise floor is lower, alterations in the time domain and other extreme processing options are less of a problem, etc. But, for playback? You will have a hard time finding a simple ABX test between a high res file and the same file downsampled to redbook. This is probably quite literally the easiest ABX test to do in a scientifically valid manner in audio today, but you can't prove a negative result, so.... Just keep that in mind, and more importantly, keep the cost of your setup vs. an entry-level DAC in mind. Summary? Stand-alone DACs are great, but spend the money on better speakers if you're talking about a budget setup that doesn't have any current noise issues or obvious problems with frequency response when compared to a competent CD player.