I am totally new to mid- to high-end audio and since I don't understand it very well yet, I would really appreciate your help. As an FPS gamer, I have completely neglected audio in favor of video, so much so that my current setup is an ASUS Xonar DG, a 5 year old set of 2.1 speakers and some earphones that came with my old Blackberry.
Recently, I've heard a lot about what a huge difference audio can make and decided I wanted to see for myself. I auditioned the Logitech G35s and Sennheiser PC350s for a week each and wasn't as impressed as I'd hoped. Then I discovered HeadFi and the "Holy Grail of Gaming" and "50+ Flagships" threads by Audioholic and DavidMahler. So, based in large part on these great reviews (and many others), I've decided to buy the DT 880 Pro 250 ohms ($230 on Amazon).
Originally I planned just to use them with my Xonar DG until I buy a new gaming rig next summer. Then I realized I need an adapter to allow me to plug both my speakers and headphones into the back of the sound card, because apparently my case would not allow the sound card to connect to the headphone jack on the front. Since everyone here seems to suggest an amp for these headphones anyway, I figured maybe I should get an amp instead of just a 3.5mm splitter. So here are my questions:
1. How does an amp improve sound quality? By how much? Is it more important than DAC?
2. What is the best DAC+amp combo for these headphones under $200 or maybe $250 if the improvement is justifiable? (If, for example, Audioholic's Xonar STX suggestion is the best option, I would be willing to wait until summer to plug that into my new rig. I don't consider an amp immediately and absolutely necessary because I assume the headphones alone should be a pretty big improvement for now.)
3. How close to the full potential of these headphones will I get on this budget?
Please note that my priorities, in order of importance, are gaming (especially online FPS), then movies, then music. Though great quality across the board would be fantastic, I want great positional audio and a competitive edge most of all.
Any help would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.
The Asus Xonar Essence STX is indeed better than regular Creative X-Fi Titanium. However, Asus soundcards have partial gaming audio support, regardless of being an entry level Xonar DG or a flagship Xonar Essence STX. You should instead get an Auzentech X-Fi Forte (a custom X-Fi Titanium card with higher quality components) or the Creative X-Fi Titanium HD, which is currently the best soundcard geared for gaming that money can buy. Adding a headphone amp like an O2 will provide enough power to drive your DT880, leaving you with a very high quality audio setup for gaming, movies and music.