Computer Audio 101: Turn Your Desktop and iPhone Into a Concert Hall for Under $500

If you're interested in listening to music at your desk and on your iPhone and you'd like it to sound really good, you've come to the right place.

Equipment Recommendations:

Speakers: Tannoy Reveal 402 Studio Monitor ($280/pair on Amazon)

DAC: AudioQuest DragonFly Black ($98.75 from Audio Advisor)

Interconnects: Canare XLR Male to RCA Male cable ($16.99/3ft. each from Markertek)

3.5mm to RCA Adapter: ($12.95 from Audio Advisor)

Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter ($29 from Apple)

Step-By-Step Desktop Setup Guide:
  1. Plug the DragonFly into your computer's USB port
  2. Connect the DragonFly to the Tannoy speakers by plugging the 3.5mm to RCA Adapter into the DragonFly and the Interconnects into the Adapter and the other ends into the Tannoys
  3. Tell your computer to play your music through the DragonFly [see DragonFly Manual]
  4. Optional: Get a Tidal HiFi subscription ($19.99/month) 1
  5. Open the Tidal app and tell it to play your music through the DragonFly (Settings > Streaming > Sound Output > select your new DAC)
  6. Play music
  7. To get the best sound from your speakers, you have to set them up properly. Start off with the Tannoys angled in, pointing straight at you so you cannot see either side of the speaker. While listening to music, begin turning them outward, so you see more of the inside side. Keep moving them outward until the music sounds like it is not coming from the speakers.
  8. Enjoy!
Step-By-Step iPhone Setup Guide:
  1. Plug the Lightning to USB Camera Adapter into your iPhone's Lightning port and the DragonFly into the other end of the Adapter
  2. Plug your headphones2 into the DragonFly
  3. Play Music

1. See "Computer Audio 101: Streaming"
2. See InnerFidelity's Wall Of Fame for headphone recommendations

BradleyP's picture

Throw in a pair of IsoAcoustics stands for another $100, and the system will sound several hundred better. Plunking down a pair of monitors right on top a desk is a waste of money to anyone with developed audio or musical sensibilities. I'm obviously preaching to the choir, here. [Thanks for turning me on to these back when, Michael!]

Reamonnt's picture

Im using a Cambridge Audio AM10 hooked up to Monitor Audio Br2 speakers and linked to my Linux system via the cheapo Behringer UCA202. I use Quod Libet player on Ubuntu, Deezer for streaming and a Marantz CD5001 for CD. Ive nearly reripped all my CD to FLAC and you can really notice the difference compared to my 160 and 128 mp3 files done years ago!!

I wonder would I hear much difference if I upgraded slightly from the Behringer but am thinking with my old 42 year old ears I mightnt notice and sometimes I think its the mastering of the music that makes the difference.

I dont know if I could get a much better DAC without spending over 100 Euro.

Finally over here in Ireland people are literally giving away CD now and Im the loony going around buying them up for 2-3 Euro each!!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...trying the AudioQuest DragonFly Black (99 Euro) as a good upgrade option for your DAC. You should be able to buy it with a 30-day return policy, so you don't have much risk.
Reamonnt's picture

thanks Michael, I would like to get a little bit more out of my kit. Ive heard the dragonfly is very good.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...the new AQ DragonFlys, Black and Red, I can certainly say that I agree - both are very good. I'd even stick another "very" in there.
Reamonnt's picture

Hi Michael,
I went for the ODAC instead from Switzerland and hooked it up to my CA AM10 but the amp was not inspiring me at all. I got my old Marantz 4001 OSE repaired and the difference now is noticeable to me. Its all low end gear but I love listening to music so the gear is a means to an end.
regards from Ireland

Lolive's picture

I previously had an excellent hi-fi system - Cain and Cain Abbys loudspeakers + Fi Audio tube amplifier (FIX Fiy and FiYph) + Well Tempered turntable - and I had already ask you informations which were very useful. Since then my life has changed, I went to Brazil, where I live now with my girlfriend in a small apartment in São Paulo and I have no place or money to buy an equivalent HiFi system especially since taxes in Brazil are prohibitive (80 to 100% on a new Hi-Fi equipment). I would use what I have now (electrostatic headphones Stax SR-207 with their dedicated amplifier Stax SRM-252S and a MacBook Pro Retina 13 inches) to gradually buy a good quality digital audio system, small and inexpensive. But I know nothing about that and I need your advice.
What is the minimal equipment to use both my computer and my headphone through its amplifier ? Is there a cheap DAC compatible with the computer and the headphone amp ? I saw that you speak with praise of Audioquest Dragonfly Red and iFi nano iDSD DAC. Which one do you prefer ? Is that enough for a happy musical experience?
Do you know inexpensive quality connections?
Are They lossless streaming services in Brasil ?
Should I buy an external hard drive to store music? Does it affects the sound quality of the music ?
Thanks a lot for your answers

Dani3l's picture

Hey Michael,

I am new to this whole thing called audio, and I have read a lot of your posts educating myself as well as I can the past week.

I have a question regarding a setup I am thinking of purchasing. I was on about to buy the Audioengine A5+, and a dragonfly Black DAC to connect to my Macbook Pro. I then thought, why don't I just find some speakers that would connect via Toslink.

In your opinion, would go the optical route or the DAC route?


Audio Fan's picture

I hope this is an appropriate question for this discussion. I looked at all of the discussions and this one seemed to be the closest to the question I have. My apologies if this not appropriate.

Do you think having an SSD instead of an HDD improves sound quality?

lenbell's picture

Im about to pull the plug and buy your under $500 recommendation, but how would you compare that set up versus going for the HD6 instead which is slightly more expensive?