I'm putting together a 2.1 system with two active monitors and a sub with my laptop as the source and have a few questions about connecting all of the components. First, here are some pictures of the connections: monitors and subwoofer. What I'd like to know is if there will be any appreciable improvement in sound quality if I were to connect the monitors directly to a DAC (instead of to the sub which would be connected to a DAC)? If I do this I won't be able to use the sub's built in high pass filter (but the monitors also have a low cut feature...so many variables...what if I use both the sub high pass filter and the monitor low pass filter at the same time??? Ugh!!) -- would this be a real concern?
In the scenario that I should connect each component to a DAC (instead of daisy-chaining), should I opt for a DAC with balanced outputs (for the monitors)? The connections shouldn't be more than 10 feet so I'm thinking I won't really need it but the balanced cables that I plan to buy (yay monoprice) aren't a whole lot more if at all. I'm mostly concerned about the balanced output feature driving up the cost of the DAC (does it? I know nothing about DACs). I'd rather get a better performing DAC that doesn't have balanced outputs than a poorer one with such feature.
Finally, and probably most importantly, I need some advice on which DACs to consider. My budget is $150 -- at this price point, would I be better off saving and expanding my budget? How much of my total system budget should I generally be allocating towards a DAC?
The Music Streamer II is a very popular DAC in your budget range. I would get this and then experiment with whether it sounds better to split the output to your sub and monitors, or whether it works better with the output going to the sub and then the monitors using the sub's high pass. Only costs you a few bucks for an RCA splitter to find out.