Many years ago one have to spend at least couple of thousands of dollars in order to get great power amplifier and DAC. But today situation is different, thanks to improvements in technology and cheap labor in China. Recently I upgraded my system with great components, spending just around 350$ including shipping. Key is to know what to look for and buy from Chinese producers (I bought them on Aliexpress).
1. In couple of past years quality of Class D amplifiers went up, so now they can compete with class A and A/B amplifiers in sound quality. Because class D amplifiers consume much less energy than class A and A/B for same power output, they are much cheaper to manufacture. You don’t need big heat sink, huge transformers and big, bulky housing. That decreses manufacturing costs and transport. If you decide to buy simple power amplifier rather than integrated amp where you pay for additional features, you can buy cheap, but very good amplifier.
Great example of such amplifier is NFJ & FXAUDIO FX-502S PRO. I couldn’t find any measurments on the Internet, but it has great build quality and is based on great TPA3250 chip. It is Class D amplifier chip packed with technology by Texas Instruments. Currently it is one of the best Class D chips out there. The best thing is that this amplifier is priced at around 70$. It is extremely cheap for quality that it provides. Plus it is energy-efficient, so it will consume a lot less energy than same power output class A or A/B amplifier.
2. Technology has progressed also in DAC sector. Currently high quality DAC chips are very cheap, same is true about other analog and digital components needed to create great DAC. If you add to it low cost manufacturing and great engineering in China, you will get excelent DACs for very cheap price.
Great example of such DAC is Topping D50. You can see detaild measurments here, they are great. I don’t mean just great for around 250$ that you have to spend on it, I mean great for any amount money. You can’t buy much better DAC if you would spent twenty times more. It is close to the state-of-the-art. It has USB, Coaxial and Toslink ports which make it compatible with every digital source. It is probably good idea to power it with linear power supply, because it operates on very weak currents, so low quality power supply could have negative impact on it’s performance. You could buy reasonably good Linear Power Supply for around 50$, so for around 300$ you can have great digital to analog conversion in your system. If it is too much Topping D30 is also great choice at around half of the price, also LPS is optional.
Here is graph for THD+N, which is one of the most important factors in digital-audio conversion:
3. You will save yourself a lot of money if you won’t spend it on expensive CD player. If you have external DAC you will use digital output. So only job of CD player is to read bis from digital disc. Even cheap CD / DVD player will do great job at this. Consider laptop CD reader that you can by for under 30$ – it will read discs bit perfect.
I have chosen BDP-S6700 player, because it reads all type of discs: CD, SACD, DVD and BluRay. You can buy it at around 100$.