Hello, it has been a while since I have posted here but I have read the forums quite a bit over the last few years. I have been very busy lately though so I have not had time to read up on my computer/audiophile/accessories hobbies in quite some time so I need some advice please. :)
First, a bit of back story,
I bought my first real audiophile setup a few years back after reading these forums quite a bit and making a few posts for some quick advice. I really loved the system I had. I bought the Sennheiser HD595's for my first ever set of cans. They sounded great. I bought them because they did not need an amp and were among some of the highest quality low-impedance headphones that I could find that weren't too expensive. These lasted me for a couple months but I was already hooked on them and I knew I'd buy something more sooner rather than later.
So next I read that while they are not very high impedance, they can still benefit from an amp. I decided to get one and try them out amped. I lacked the ability to use analog cables (The blue/white and red ones; I can never remember what they are called, RCA cables?). Anyway, I did not have a way to use them with my computer so I was not able to buy a standalone amp. It ended up not being a big deal as I was curious about how my onboard audio compared with audio from a standalone sound card. I figured that a sound card would definitely give a noticeable improvement in quality so I decided on buying that instead of an amp.
Luckily for me, after a few weeks of research to find the perfect sound card for my headphones (as nothing but perfection for something so nice is acceptable IMO), I came across the Asus Xonar Essence sound cards. I knew they were the ones that I was going to end up buying and I wasn't really worried about the definite price premium for what could possibly be one of the best sound cards on the market (at least at the time). As per deciding between the STX or the ST; I read that the ST has precision clock tuning to lower the jitter a bit over the STX and had a pin header for an expansion to 7.1 surround sound while the STX was PCI-e instead of PCI like the ST. I figured that the STX already had such little jitter that a tiny improvement would barely be noticeable and I was only ever planning to use headphones with the card anyway so the pin header to expand to 7.1 was of no concern to me. I decided on the STX for the PCI-e slot instead of the PCI slot as I like to buy high end computer parts and higher end motherboards were already starting to phase out PCI. I didn't want to have to choose between my sound card or a new CPU/motherboard potentially in the future.
Once it came in the mail I could not have been more excited to get the damn thing in my computer. Got it all plugged in and ready to go (drivers were a HUGE pain at the time for W7 64-bit). Plugged in my headphones and booted up foobar. It was awesome of course. Definitely sounded much clearer. The bass had quite a bit more punch added to it as well. It wasn't really louder, but it was more present in the music without being overpowering. The sound card/amp made what I thought was perfection even better so of course I was happy with my purchase.
Fast forward about a year and I was looking to get a better set of headphones. I liked my headphones quite a lot but I figured why not try something that was even better? Having such good luck with Sennheiser so far, I decided to stick with them. Read a lot about a "veil" some supposedly have but I figured that it was just people who were more used to brighter cans over exaggerating the "veil" a bit. I didn't deny that it might have been there, but I figured that some people were more used to a bright tone and when they tried a darker can it sounded much darker relatively than it actually was. Back to the cans I was checking out though, I was looking at the HD600 and HD650 obviously as there wasn't really much else to upgrade to from the HD595's without going straight for the 800's at the time and there was no way I had the money or the experience to invest in a purchase like that. I had tried some brighter headphones at the time and I did not like them much. Sometimes highs can get a little harsh for my ears and I really wanted to avoid that. I figured it wasn't going to be much of a problem either way but I read that some people thought that some very high highs on the 600's got a little harsh. This put me off to them a little bit along with their looks. I know that looks should be the last thing on the list of important things to look for in a headphone but I HATED that gross blue speckled pattern. The 650's were a little bassier and had the overall higher-quality sound of the two. I listen to EDM quite a bit so I knew I would really appreciate a slightly punchier bass and the very slightly recessed highs as EDM can have some very high tones at times as well as very low rumbles. I wanted to enjoy all of that without running into the "harsh highs" that some people were having with the 600's. I found a great deal for the 650's and pulled the trigger on them.
The excitement I had waiting for my sound card was nothing compared to this. I literally must have checked the tracking number twice a day until they got to me. I remember the day that they were supposed to be delivered I checked so often that I ended up seeing the option change from "In Transit" to "Delivered" and had time to go to the door to wait for the UPS guy to walk up to my door and give me to box. These were definitely as big of an upgrade as going from onboard audio to my Essence STX. The difference was huge. I must have sat there going back and forth from my 595's to the 650's for at least a couple hours. When I was finally done listening to as many of my favorite songs back and forth as I could, I just left the 650's in and listened for the rest of the day. All in all, I was very satisfied.
Moving forward a few months more and I decided to finally get some use out of an external amp. I was sick of moving the windows slider to change my volume and I figured a small upgrade to a dedicated amp was something that my 650's deserved. I started to check out some amps but everything that was going to be a worthwhile upgrade from the amp on my STX was going to be around $400 from the looks of things. I was not about to pay more money for an amp than I paid for my headphones. Not while I was still new to the world of audio. Maybe someday when I have more experience and I get my Engineering degree, but most certainly not now. After checking out amps for a while longer with no success I put the idea on the back shelf until something came along that was really what I was looking for. Sure enough something did come along. Schiit Audio came along with the Asgard. I wasn't sure if I was going to get a SS amp or a tube amp at the time but after reading up a lot I decided that SS was for me. I read that they usually make for a slightly brighter sound over tube amps, but some tubes could still make a brighter sound. I didn't want to get into different tubes though and the technical superiority of a SS amp is what I am all about. So I decided on the Asgard for my first standalone amp.
While I was excited for this purchase it obviously was not anywhere near how excited I was for the STX and 650's. I knew it would bring an improvement to the table, and I knew it would be a subtle one. When it got here I used the DAC on the STX and plugged the red and white plugs out from the STX to the input ports on the Asgard. I had to do a little research to make sure that these ports were still using the DAC on the STX before going to the Asgard as I didn't want to skip over the DAC on accident (I was still pretty new to computer audio at the time and I didn't know that you had to go through a DAC before using RCA cables to plug into an amp, there simply wasn't another option as RCA is analog and that is the whole point of a Digital to Analog Converter lol). I listened to it and I was right on the money. While it was very difficult to tell a difference, there was a small one. Most of the improvement was at louder listening levels while the quieter volumes remained too similar to tell a difference. Now the bass was very crisp for me and the highs were brought up just a tiny bit. This made my listening experience definitely better, even if it was only a little bit. Having an adjustable volume knob right on my desk was a bigger plus than the sound quality improvement, but that was a substantial upgrade compared to adjusting the volume slider in windows.
Now here we are another year after buying my Asgard and I am looking to try out something new. I have some extra money from my co-op and with it I have bought the PC360's for a gaming headset that I am VERY satisfied with. I sold my HD595's a while ago so I cannot reference them for a sound signature anymore. I am not sure where I should be going from here honestly so that is the whole reason I am making this post.
My current setup is FLAC/MP3 320kb/s ---> Asus Xonar Essence STX RCA-out ---> Schiit Asgard 1 rev. 2.0 ---> Sennheiser HD650 or Senn PC360
Is there a newer, better soundcard out now compared to my Asus Xonar Essence STX? I'm really only interested in one with a better DAC since that's all I really use on it anymore. Price being no object, is there another option for computer audio other than a sound card that gives significantly better sound quality over a sound card? If not then is there really a "best" sound card for games and music with price not mattering? I chose the STX a while for the very reason that it excels at both but now I can get something better if it's worth it.
What are some similar quality level headphones compared to my HD650's that I could try and see if I might like more? What is something that I could look into for an upgrade for the future, price being no object? I read that the HD700 was a bit of a letdown a while back so I am not too interested in those and the HD800 sounds like it is going to be a little brighter than what I am looking for, although so many people like its sound so much that I am thinking that someday I might have to give it a try. Also, since it is very finicky with amps, perhaps I could try to find a darker sounding amp to pair it with to solve my dilemma? I read that since I like the 650's so much I might like the Audeze LCD-2 rev. 2.0, or, if I'm really looking to spend money, the LCD-3.
What about amps? I have the Asgard rev. 2 right now. NOT the Asgard 2, I have the first model of Asgard but with the switch installed to keep your headphone drivers from flexing too much when you switch the amp on and off. What is a good amp that I can look into upgrading to for a good price? I'm not going to lie I really wish I had the Asgard 2 instead of what I have now. The Asgard isn't bad by any means, but from what I read the Asgard 2 is a definite improvement over the original and for the same price it is a fantastic deal for an amp. I just can't justify spending $250 on an amp to which I own the previous model of otherwise I would simply buy the Asgard 2. :p
Thanks for any answers! Sorry if this is the wrong forum but I wasn't sure where exactly to put this topic since I ask a little bit of everything in it. :)