If you're still plugging your headphones and desktop speakers directily into your computer's headphone jack, but are curious what lies on the other side of the audiophile divide, consider giving this little $US39 USB sound card a try.
The new Hifiman Express HM-101 Portable USB Sound Card has no frills, but according to one review, it will drastically improve the sound of the music on your computer. The digital-to-analogue converter in your average Apple laptop is good enough — but not great. Basically, this tiny little USB sound card just does a better job of turning the ones and zeros on your hard drive into an analogue signal to send to your headphones or speakers. The HM-101 is tiny and very simple: it's just a smidgen bigger than an iPod Nano, and has just a usb input and two outputs — one for headphones and one for speakers.
Hifiman usually makes superior products — with superior price tags — for the audiophile market. You won't get that level of quality with the HM-101, but it will noticeably improve the sound of your music. If you fall in love, there are many hundreds and thousands of dollars to spend endlessly improving sound. Maybe that's your style, maybe it's not, but considering $US39 will only get you part of the way to a decent pair of earbuds, giving this little guy a try is a no-brainer. [HeadDirect via The Audiophiliac]