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The weird, wonderful world of high-end personal audio

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For most of us, spending $10 a month on a service like Spotify or $200 on a decent pair of headphones is plenty, thank you very much. But if you're obsessed with squeezing every last drop of audio performance that you can out of your setup, the sky's the limit: you can spend tens of thousands of dollars on headphone amplifiers, digital-to-analog converters, ultra-luxe portable players, and the headphones themselves. With the recent launch of Tidal, you can even spend more to get lossless streaming music, which delivers better audio quality at a significantly higher bitrate. (You've got to be careful that you don't blow through your data cap on an LTE connection — but if you're spending thousands on audio gear in the first place, perhaps you have some cash to spare.)

On the other hand, if you've got picky ears and a more down-to-earth budget, it's possible to spend just a couple hundred dollars and still have a fairly dramatic impact on the quality of audio that's coming out of your PC.

Featured in the video:

  • Sony Walkman A17 digital music player ($299.99, Amazon)
  • Sony MDR1A headphones ($299.99, Amazon)
  • Schiit Modi DAC ($99, Amazon)
  • Schiit Vali hybrid amplifier ($129, Amazon)
  • Astell & Kern AK240 digital music player ($2,499, Amazon)
  • Audeze LCD-X headphones ($1,699, Audeze)