I'll be putting together a modest HTPC soon to go along with an Emotiva A-300 and a pair of ELAC UB5s, a bedroom setup. Normally, I would be using HDMI output (as I do on my main HTPC) for video and audio along with an AVR. In this case, I want to avoid an AVR or the sort of preamp that would typically appear with the sort of power amp I'm getting because either would be excessive for my needs. I don't need a flexible preamp because Equalizer APO will take care of all the processing I require. I can decode on-the-fly what I'd otherwise bitstream on my main setup (though the setup will primarily be for music). I also won't require any switching as I'll only have the one source device: a PC.
A decade ago the answer would have been simple. I'd buy a soundcard with decent DAC and two RCA outs. If this were to be a more serious setup, I'd either run HDMI into an AVR or a proper modular preamp/power amp pair, or buy a nicer mainboard with upgraded DACs for the onboard sound. Rather than having too much mainboard, I'd rather spend the excess on a dedicated DAC solution.
I'm not screwing with old soundcards. I have a Auzentech X-Fi Bravura in the closet and I'd rather do nothing at all than deal with Creative or affiliated brands' (Auzentech licensed some of their tech) drivers ever again. I haven't been able to find any new soundcards that fit the bill, but if a simple PCIE soundcard with good DACs, unobtrusive (better yet, no) bundled software and just a pair of RCA outs exist, I'd be happy to check that out. Everything I see is geared towards gaming, pro audio, or cost twice as much as it otherwise would thanks to headphone amplification.
Should I be looking at USB audio interfaces? Everything I've come across is either cheap private label Amazon garbage I don't trust but has the proper features (with poor or no real specs listed), or is vastly over-featured overkill intended to go alongside a DAW. For example, I don't need headphone amplification, and I don't need more than 2x2, or Speakon, or XLR, or hi/lo-Z switching... And with hifi-geared preamps, I don't need Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, Spotify or Tidal integration, equalization/room correction... Just a USB or S/PDIF input, good DACs, and a pair of unbalanced outs to feed the Emotiva.
Basically, I need something to put between an HTPC and a stereo power amp, and I really don't want that to be a 3.5mm to dual RCA cable coming out of cheap onboard.
Surely a simple but high-quality solution exists? I don't want to put together a new setup only to send trash to the Emotiva, but getting a TA-100 or similar for my predicament would be excessive.