Streuth, the level of comprehension of the technologies involved here has fallen a long way size the days when we would argue on the best Lame version or the merits of mp2 (sic) compression...
@billat29 parity?? CD Audio is the standard and is the same for CD and CD-R. The long block size Reed-Solomon error correction works pretty well perfectly for the purposes of this discussion.
FLAC: seems this is a total red herring to the discussions here. Just use uncompressed WAV or *any* lossless compression format for audio comparison. Why bother purchasing FLAC online?? Just rip a CD. And for best achievable results, rip with EAC using its checksum-based database for bit-perfect-by-consensus result. Mount the WAV and cue sheet using daemontools as a virtual CDROM drive and let iTunes perfectly rip the virtual drive.
Yes, yes for the best "cheap" quality solution, go for a pair of studio monitors, maybe active, or maybe with a simple power-amp.
For soundcard, just use a Behringer UCA202 - perfect USB to DAC, and only 20 notes.