I've been digging around here on and off for a couple of years and I can't for the life of me find a thread that focuses exclusively on the value a DAC or sound card has for competitive gaming and that only. There is no thread I've seen for someone who doesn't care if the sound is immersive or if the sound is absolute trash for music but simply wants to hear the position of someone creeping around in CS:GO or whatever down to the very last degree. A few of the issues I've had:
1. Sound cards are largely ignored. I'm well aware that they're not the best solutions you can buy for music listening or movies, but I'd like to see a comparison of them anyway. For instance, would you recommend an Essence series sound card like the STX II, a Sound Core3D sound card like the ZxR, or an older X-Fi for pure gaming purposes? Not everyone can afford a high-end DAC and amplifier, and this also brings me to No. 2.
2a. I keep hearing people say to buy external DACs. Okay, that's fine. Why? It's never really made clear to me if these are better for sound quality overall or for positional audio specifically. Whenever there's a thread that seems to address this, the answer is muddled up under rather esoteric terminology which someone who isn't that familiar with high-end audio, such as myself, cannot properly decipher. As it's done without clarifying what the terminology means, it's also a barrier to actually learning this terminology on top of obscuring the answer to that specific question.
2b. I know that the mainstream sound card brands like the ZxR have drivers -software- that makes them well-suited to gaming. But it's never been made clear to me if you can get better or comparable utility out of external DACs. For instance, I've toyed with sound cards using Dolby Headphone before, and can generally hear the position of something down to around 45 degrees in most shooters that properly implement audio positioning. I happen to be using AD700s. Now, will a well-arranged external DAC/amp setup provide comparable or greater precision?
3. This part of the post doesn't exactly belong here but I'd rather not start another thread just to get an answer on it, too, since it's related: Headphones. I have the same issue here, too. Oftentimes I hear "DT 880 Pro/Premium" or "Q701" or "ATH-AD700(X)" thrown around but it's never made clear what EXACTLY those headphones are good for. I know AD700s have the widest soundstage, but I've also heard that the DT 880 Pros are better for "gaming" because they have better imaging. But in practical terms, does that mean the 880s have better positional audio in the sense that you'll more accurately hear things around you, or do they just make explosions and gunshots or whatever sound prettier? The latter is a non-factor to someone who's content with less but wants more in the competitive department. I've heard more obscure headphones recommended before, but usually it's just "Use X" without any explanation as to why they're better/different.
4. Another annoying thing is oftentimes people say, "I've used these headphones/amps/DACs and they're great!" without providing any kind of comparison to the other options. We thank you for your subjective experience. It's also almost entirely useless information on its own, and takes up time and energy to sift through.
Example question: "Would you recommend a Sound Blaster ZxR, X-Fi Titanium HD, Essence STX II, or something else entirely with a pair of AD700s or DT 880s or something else for pure competitive gaming, or not?"
Example of a desirable answer: "I would advise getting X over Y because it has A, B, and C and this translates into being able to more accurately pick out footsteps in a shooter on X when compared to Y."
Try looking around; you'll find it's surprisingly hard to get stuff like this. Give us rookies a hand, willya? Fewer people understand you guys than you think. I'm sorry if I'm coming off as an arrogant/ignorant prick. I'm really not trying to. These are just frustrating issues which have plagued me ever since I started trying to research this stuff years ago, so I feel I have to define every detail of the request to preclude answers that aren't really helpful.