Since we've clearly established that wireless streaming around your house does not add jitter or degradation to audio, today we're going to let you in on a little secret that will make your music sound even better than before. If you've got your hands on an Airport Express, you're already half-way there. We're here to introduce you to the concept of using DACs (or digital analog converters) to get richer sound from the same source. We'll give you a rundown of what's hype, what's not, and what you really need to look for when purchasing one. Details, below the jump.
We've adapted the main details from this Cnet article, so check it out if you want a more thorough breakdown of the DAC technology and its benefits.
Basically, the main idea here is to utilize an external DAC in order to bypass the inferior DAC chip built into the Airport Express. The AirPort Express outputs digital via a 3.5mm headphone socket, so all you need is a Toslink cable in order to feed digital data into your DAC. Like we said before, all digital data is the same, so it either works or it doesn't. Getting a more expensive Monster cable won't help you here.
You'll also need one of these guys to convert from the 3.5mm jack to the Toslink optical.
When you've got that ready, you can now prepare yourself for the big investment; the DAC. There are a number of DACs out there, and everyone has their own preferences. We've listened to about 25-30 of them and often find ourselves wanting to buy more than one due to the differences in sound. However, we'd like to give shouts to a few of our favorites out there: the Music Hall 25.2 DAC, the Firestone Spitfire 24 Bit DAC (the Little Country III amp got reviewed here a while back), and the PS Audio Digital Link III Audio DAC. Prices on these guys run from $200-$600, so depending on your budget, purchase responsibly.
Assuming your Airport Express is already setup correctly (See instructions here), you should be able to plug in your new tech goodies, let the DAC do the digital decoding, and output it (via RCA cables) to your speaker setup. So long as your speakers aren't stock ones found in some cheap HTIB (home theater in box) system, you should hear an immediate difference in brilliance and sound, especially with jazz, classical, and vocal tracks. Good luck and have fun!
Let us know how this project has gone for you, or better yet, shoot us some of your own personal DAC recommendations. We'd love to hear it!