I was just assuming 343 Grenadier would be able to walk me through a test of its abilities for gaming.
The HD 800 is often said to have the best imaging of any headphone. If the definition of "the sense that a voice or instrument is in a particular place in the room" is to be taken at face value, it would appear that imaging and positional ability are synonymous.
Yeah, I'm not interested in sound cards, but then again, I'm not a PC gamer.
As for amps/DACs, a flat frequency response is desirable for some people, especially if you are pursuing a neutral, accurate sound. Some go so far as recommending a neutral source, then using EQ to tweak the sound to your liking, instead of spending a lot more on a colored tube amp or whatever. Maybe you weren't referring to frequency response itself when you said "flat as pancakes."
Do you know how the NFB-15 and NFB-11 compare to the O2+ODAC? They're about the same price.
Imaging and positional ability are two completely different things. First of all, almost no musical albums do any time delay DSP, they rely upon stereo panning and do it until "it sounds good". Audio engineers do not spatially position audio clips in the same way that 3D DSP try to.with HRTF, volume decrease, time delay, etc. What people mean when they say there is good imaging is that after taking into consideration all of the recording quirks and reproduction quirks the end result is something which can subjective be called "good imaging". It is a psychological phenomena where the conscious mind gets the feeling that despite all of the crazy mess that happens to spatiality cues that occur in the recording studio and in the reproduction gear, sounds still sound like they have "good imaging" or coherency". It has to be understood, in the recording studio they almost never do what is necessary to maintain spatiality cues and there is almost no, if any, changes in the position of objects, so what does it have to do with spatial positioning? Hell, you could superimpose ten different instruments so that they technically are in the same spatial position and the human mind will decipher it as being ten distinct instruments if the recording and reproduction processes allow the different instruments to still sound distinct. The only time you can judge the spatial positioning of the ability of reproduction gear is by watching movies or playing video games where things can move and you can judge for yourself whether the spatial positioning of objects and the sounds of the objects are correct, not by listening to stationary object sounds that remain stationary for 1 hour straight and are actually recorded five inches away from the sound source and mixed together with ten other audio clips as is often done in recording studios.
I haven't read the entire thread but see you mention the smyth realiser, and you have to understand, that no matter how good the smyth realiser is, it won't repair spatiality issues that always occur in recording. What smyth can do is replicate how sounds travel if they were SPEAKERS, replicating whatever speaker presets you use and altered for your ears, and what speakers can do is present sound like a speaker and allow sounds to move in oppositional directions to your head movements. In a sentence, not even the best 3D DSP's or a DSP like the smyth realiser can restore spatiality cues that are missing, no reproduction gear can restore missing spatiality accurately (but they can definitely give a good subjective impression of it), and the only thing that can preseve spatiality cues is if somehow it's no longer just about making it "sound good" according to the subjective opinion of the audio engineer.
A PC gamer shouldn't be interested in sound cards, external dac/amps are much superior for gaming. Someone who wants to record stuff or use their computers to output stuff into a surround sound speaker system wants a sound card.
Flat as a pancake means no sound stage depth.
Just look at the internals of the different dac/amps, it's like asking if you can compare devices with jellybean opamps and $2 dac chips to some of the most advanced designs using the best dac chips and all discrete components. I hold audio-gd gear in very high regard, I'm of the opinion that most of their equipment, with clear exceptions being their speakers and digital reclockers,have more technically advanced and innovative designs than any other high end audio manufacturer. Their English product descriptions are just very bad :p and their prices are way below what other companies would charge.
Honestly, given the kinda gaming I've gotten the impression you do, I don't expect it to matter much. Positional cues are most important in shooters and have value in strategy games (Somewhat, but not important.) and stealth-action games. Now on the other hand, if you play a shooter that implements virtualization like L4D2, Call of Duty, or Battlefield, you'll benefit from it. The trick is just to turn on the virtualization and...play. Listen for gunshots, footsteps, character communication, anything that hints to the position of something or someone in your vicinity. Some games have rendered this tech useless or at least made it a chore to get working, though. Counter-Strike titles don't have it enabled by default. You have to toy around in the developer's console to get it working at all.
Most games with full xyz navigation implement stereo panning and volume changes based upon relative spatial positioning and the direction of the character. What 3d dsp's do is EXAGGERATE these things by making use of time delays and other hrtf means of making spatiality cues more obvious. Sure it can make it easier to spatially position things when it is in your face, but from what I experienced with dolby headphone it always has an unnatural sound to it.
Imaging is important but generally, gamers seem to focus on having a wide soundstage as it highlights the direction of a sound, especially in shooters. I'm not sure about this but based on what I've read, imaging is mostly useful for determining distance, which is important but secondary to soundstage in most shooters. It's also worth noting that virtualization can kill imaging: CMSS-3D is, to my ears, VERY accurate directionally, but it makes everything sound fairly close. Then again, I AM using headphones with crap imaging but a wide soundstage, so that could just be me.
Again, imaging is a psychological phenomena, and sure headphones might need good technical characteristics to give the feeling of big space and coherency, but as I mentioned above, most recordings don't have real spatiality, and you might as well judge the spatiality of headphones based upon a smorgasbord of random midi files.
Flat is good for positional audio, yes?
I like flat neutrality. I don't like flat as in no soundstage depth, and it's my opinion that high end consumer sound cards sound as flat as pancakes. I got many hours of enjoyment out of my $200 soundcards, but I can assure you, sound cards with $1 dac chips and $0.25 opamps have nothing on real mid to hi-fi gear.
And what is "the stuff offered by soundcards?" Positional audio? Or something else? If it's the former, then, once again, that is the entire point of this thread. I apologize if you're simply here to correct something erroneous that Derbigpr said but most of this seems irrelevant to this thread's topic. If it's not, clarify, please.
Like all of the things I have written in this post, I have already written, but people don't seem to be reading what I write. The stuff offered by sound cards can be known by looking at the soundcards. See all those connectors? That's to cater to people who actually want to record things or use the surround sound output in order to make their computers a server. See the big square chip in the center of the card? That's a multipurpose IC to offer a lot of different functionality, and is not a two channel DAC meant solely for improving audio. See the $0.25 opamps on the board? That's the kind of design philosophy they are using. As I said before, just look at what people have said about the changes in sound by using burson or audio-gd discrete opamps, and know that real mid to hi-fi gear don't use the kinds of multipurpose and low cost components found in sound cards. It's like trying to compare a home theater A/V meant to allow you to connect a bajillion things to and from it to a dedicated two channel dac/amp that is designed only for a very small amount of digital inputs and has only output for stereo speakers, there is no comparison because they both offer completely different things.