Ideal setup for listening to streaming music on desktop PC
March 11, 2017 7:59 PM   Subscribe

I listen to almost all of my music now on my PC, streaming on Spotify or Youtube, either through my 2.0 speaker setup, or $20 Sony earbuds plugged in to speakers. I'm wondering what I'm missing. What is the ideal setup for optimizing my listening experience for a budget <$300?

The budget of $300 is loose - but I'd really have to know what I'm gaining beyond that price point. I'm happy listening through headphones all the time if that's the best budget option for optimizing my experience. I'll be around to answer any questions. Thanks!
posted by pilibeen to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
My setup right now is an Amazon Dot connected to some good speakers, with the Amazon Unlimited service, which is $3.99/month if you only listen on Alexa devices. I also have a Tap, which now that it can hear voice commands is a great portable speaker around the house. Spotify has better curated playlists, I think, but I don't use those anyway. To me, the voice commands are the killer feature of Alexa. She can control Spotify, too.

I'm using M-Audio AV-40 Studio Monitors, but apparently the new version of these, the AV-42s, aren't as good. Whatever speakers you're using for your computer should be fine, though, if they sound good to you.
posted by Huck500 at 8:14 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]

Treat an Echo Dot as a streaming audio server. You don't have to talk to it.
posted by holgate at 8:35 PM on March 11

self-powered bookshelf speakers is a good search - the microlab t9s punch well above their weight.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:36 PM on March 11

A proper external DAC and a small pair of powered near field monitors could come in at the low end around $300.

I love my KRKs and they make a small pair that is just about $300 - the Rokit model. Mine are bigger but they are amazing monitors.
posted by spitbull at 8:55 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]

Depending on your preferences, two very popular recommendations are a pair of JBL LSR305 studio monitors (note: price is for a single speaker) or a pair of high quality headphones that are fairly easy to drive without a separate headphone amplifier, like the Sennheiser HD600.

I don't have first-hand experience with the JBL speakers, but they're generally well-regarded as a good starting point for desktop "audiophile" listening. However, they're pretty big and may not fit on your desk. A smaller (and more consumer-friendly) option would be the Audioengine HD3, which I do have experience with. Audioengine doesn't have a great reputation with the audiophile crowd, mostly due to the way their A2 and A5 speakers sound. I definitely wouldn't recommend either of the A series anymore, but the HD series are more modern, have bluetooth and USB functionality, and sound (and look) quite good, especially at their size and price point.

As for headphones, the Sennheiser HD600 and HD650 are classic headphones that are known for comfortable ergonomics and a smooth, non-fatigueing sound. They're also notable for being relatively un-picky about what you plug them into, but they also get better as you improve your amplification seemingly indefinitely. The headband is known for clamping down on your head at first, but that goes away over time. The HD600 is supposed to have a "neutral" tonality, while the HD650 is supposed to be a little more bassy, but I think they sound very similar. There is a version of the HD650 called the HD6XX that shows up on Massdrop on occasion for $200, which is a pretty good value.
posted by strangecargo at 9:35 PM on March 11

Could you clarify the details of your current 2.0 setup, is it a stereo you line into or just a pair of computer speakers?
posted by Lorin at 10:08 PM on March 11

A Schiit Modi 2 DAC and Audioengine A2+ speakers push your price limit a little, but will sound very nice.
posted by box at 6:04 AM on March 12

I have these Sony bluetooth headphones (which I picked up for much cheaper on ebay) - I was skeptical about bluetooth quality over wired, but they're pretty impressive, and being able to get up and walk around whilst I'm working (and not have to remember that I'm attached to a wired headset every time) is a freedom I'd completely underestimated.

Agree with the powered bookshelf speaker suggestion, not so much with the external DAC - I've done this and in theory it's totally the way to go, in reality I don't think you get a significant return on your investment.

It's also worth noting that all headphones sound different, and different folks like the way different headphones sound. In Japan recently I went to Yodobashi Camera where they pretty much have all headphones (and earphones) by every manufacturer and you can try them *all*, and I had a pretty good bash at the main players (Sennheiser etc), and can 100% attest that you have no way of knowing if you'll like a headphone until you hear it. I'm not aware of a place where you can try headphones like this in the US - beyond ordering them on Amazon and then sending back the ones you don't like - but just wanted to make the point that it's really personal thing (and also related to the type of music you mostly listen to).
posted by 7 Minutes of Madness at 7:30 AM on March 12

If you have good speakers connected to your TV (and, even better, a decent audio receiver), a Roku or Chromecast connected to said TV and receiver would give you access to Spotify and YouTube. That's the way I go when I want to listen to streaming music through proper speakers.

You can get a Roku or Chromecast for well under $300. Chromecast needs an Android device or the Chrome browser to drive it, while you can navigate the Roku apps with their supplied remote.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 4:33 PM on March 12

I have a pair of Micca MB42X speakers, a Lepai LP2020+ mini amp and a Dayton Audio SUB-800 8-Inch subwoofer. Total price of everything was $200, and it sounds excellent, while getting loud enough to make conversation in the room basically impossible. You could pretty easily bump both the amp and the speakers up a level and stay under your budget.
posted by cnc at 6:32 PM on March 12

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