Here it goes: I am trying to figure out what is the best but still reasonable solution for my personal audio needs. By "reasonable" I mean all in all roughly in the EUR 400 area. "Needs" are music playback - pop/rock/classic, no jazz/blues - and gaming (surround), all via headphones!
I already have a decently powered PC and the Mainboard comes with a Realtek ALC892 8-Channel High Definition Audio Codec (according to ASUS capable of such amazing things as "Absolute Pitch 192kHz/24-bit True BD Lossless Sound", "DTS Ultra PC II" and "DTS Connect"). Well, I am aware that this is probably not audiophiles' material...
In the past with the former PC I used the Sennheiser PC 350 headset (both for listening to music and for gaming) on a Creative X-Fi Platinum (PCI). Since that's no longer possible (no room for PCI card anymore), I thought it may be time for something new entirely.
After spending at least two full days reading various howto's, guides and reviews both here and elsewhere, and both written by "professionals" as well as mere customers (e.g. on amazon) I still feel as clueless as before.
I've also tried to figure out "how audiophile" I might be and played around with different playback software to check whether I can actually hear the differences - that a lot of people claim to exist - between the software players. Frankly, I can't, they all sound the same to me (be it foobar, MS mediaplayer, WinAmp...), at least if I adjust them all to the same volume (i.e. max) and deactivate all equalizers etc. I tried both with my laptop (Via High Definition Audio and Shure E2C) and the Desktop (Realtek ALC892 and Sennheiser PC 350), so I figure either I can't hear any difference or there is simply no difference to hear - at least with my current equipment.
Now I am wondering, what I may have been missing in the audio department... is there really a whole new world waiting to be explored (and heard) by the inexperienced and untrained commoner's ear who's willing to spend ca. EUR 400?
As I mentioned above, for music I prefer pop/rock (no jazz/blues) and classic (mostly piano pieces, I play myself). However, the quality of my favourite classic recordings is rather poor since they are quite old (from the 1950's, 70's and 80's) and I doubt that any new playback equipment could make them sound much better.
For gaming I'd like to have decent surround sound capabilities that are "useable" with headphones. Also, the equipment should decently "playback" both speech and game-sound at the same time.
To sum it up, I currently have at my disposal:
Sennheiser PC 350
Realtek ALC892 8-Channel High Definition Audio Codec
Now what should I aim for with EUR 400 to spend?
1. Should I go for a dedicated soundcard? I am currently rather reluctant to do so, since I really loathe driver problems (had them with the X-FI, hear they also exist, for example, with the Asus Xonar Essense XTS, Phoebus, etc.). I'm on Win7 64 btw.
2. Instead of a soundcard, why not use a USB DAC like Audioquest's Dragonfly, FiiO E17 or HRT Headstreamer? However, I am afraid that surround sound is not possible with a DAC, but maybe a viable option at least for music? Maybe then I could get a cheap(er) soundcard for better surround capabilities (compared to the realtek codec)?
3. Do I need new headphones? The Sennheiser PC 350 was considered quite decent for a consumer product at the time of release. I am also quite happy with the sound of the Shure E2C, but I prefer the Sennheiser.
Or should I just grab my Laptop and headphones and go to a decent hifi store in my area to see...errr...hear whether I can make out differences depending on what I throw at my ears...?
Thank you all in advance for any help! I would understand though, if it is too much to bother you with my "cheap audio-newbie" questions. ("Shhh... off you go with your lousy EUR 400 budget!")