" ... Some TOSLink implementations can do 24/192 stereo, it is the 24/96 and 24/192 5.1 that is of real interest with Firewire (Driver does not support this... yet). ..."
" ... 96 kHz is considered overkill by many too. Best estimates are that any conceivable audio issues with 44.1 kHz sampling ..."
The above is a rather mixed message.
* FireWire is capable of multichannel 24bit / 96K or better.
* All decent professional studio work is done on a minimum of 24bit / 96K equipment or converted from analog to 24 bit / 96K digital as an intermediary to production ... so the good stuff is 24bit / 96K.
* Even my old ears can hear the difference between 24 bit and 16 bit playback.
* Even my tired old ears can usually tell the difference between 44.1K and 48K or higher sampling rates. "CDs suck" - Bob Dylan in Rolling Stone magazine interview of this year.
" ... When it is necessary to capture audio covering the entire 18-20,000 Hz range of human hearing, such as when recording music or many types of acoustic events, audio waveforms are typically sampled at 44.1 kHz (CD)
or 48 kHz (professional audio)
. ... Even a casual glance at professional audio magazines (e.g. Sound on Sound) will reveal an industry trend towards sampling rates well beyond the basic requirements; 96 kHz and even 192 kHz are available.
..." From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samplin..._processing%29
Yes I can tell the difference !! You can too !! Get a copy of a really good DVD-A disc and compare it tothe CD version. Listen to it on your DVD player patched through your stereo as best as you can = best quality playback possible.
Most modern DVD players will play both DVD-A and CD music ... some have SPDIF / TOSLink outputs ... some have good DAC analog outputs. (A good one: http://oppodigital.com/dv981hd/dv981hd_index.html
= plays everything, even Euro zone 2 video with a tweak!)
24bit verses 16bit / Bench Marks for quality comparisons of DVD verses CD:http://www.classicrecords.com/item.cfm?item=HDAD%202008
* verses * http://www.amazon.com/Folk-Singer-Mu...dp/B00000JNOJ/http://www.amazon.com/Love-CD-%2B-Au...dp/B000JJS8TM/
* CD + DVD-A set contains both!http://www.amazon.com/Bonnie-Raitt-F...dp/B000GGSLV8/
* CD + DVD-A set contains both!http://www.amazon.com/Musicares-Pers...dp/B000GH3QFI/
* verses * http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00007IT8S
... There are countless more examples. I don't buy CDs any more, just DVD videos and DVD-A and SACD discs.
So how do you get this better quality outta your computer and into your speakers? My suggestions are FireWire or SPDIF (TOSLink optical if possible, otherwise coaxial). USB just can't quite make it. PC plug in cards (except for TOSLink optical) let too much PC power supply noise through. You don't really know exactly what Internet radio feeds can sound like until you play a 96K feed through a FireWire connected DAC to a decent system.
" ... But HDMI can do that too, yes? ..." Yes!! it can, but most TVs just don't have decent built in speakers. Some HDMI TVs do have "quality" outputs, but I have not found any TVs with an HDMI to DAC capable of 24 bit, 48K or better.
My current system: Apple MacBook laptop through M-Audio.com FireWire Audiophile through Bottlehead tube pre-amp (!) through DIY stereo power amp through http://www.magnepan.com/model_MMG
mains and DIY sub woofer (video output laptop direct DVI to HDMI to Samsung LCD flat screen) ... Captial G dam man its gooood ...