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[Help/Advice] Please help me improve my home listening experience for Gaming and Music on PC

  1. PCG4mr
    I'm no audiophile by any means, but certainly have aspirations to become one, within my financial means of course. I want to experience quality sound as much as possible while gaming and listening to music at home primarily (watching Blu-Ray movies is secondary), as I spend a lot of time at a computer for work and entertainment. I would also like to have the best possible sound when watching movies and listening to music on my iPad Pro as well.
    I'm looking for advice on what I should get to "upgrade" my listening experience for these things, say within a budget of $500-600, to get the best possible sound at all frequencies. I'm interested in new headphones, best possible DAC/Amp solution, equalizer (maybe?), and whatever else would give me flexibility to control the sound quality / output.
    I'm also interested in having Virtual Surround sound experience with games through headphones, but I'm not totally sold on this concept yet. I simply want full immersion in gaming and want it to sound amazing, but don't want to take away from / impact other things like getting full quality of music. 
    My work/computer area is in a great room, shared with the home theater and general kid traffic / play area, so I have to take that into consideration. I need to have privacy when listening without distractions, but I also need to make sure I'm not distracting others, which means open back headphones aren't an option..at least I don't think so since they leak sound.
    This is my current audio related gear connected to my PC:
    1. Beyerdynamic DT-770 80 ohm
    2. Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium HD (stock)
      1. Does not have headphone amp built in
    3. Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 (THX) desktop computer speakers
      1. These also have a headphones jack as well as aux input for devices like MP3 players
    4. Sound BlasterX G5
      1. Just bought, but not sure I'm keeping it
    How I use these devices:
    1. Mostly Action/Adventure and RPGs
      1. The Witcher 3, Elder Scrolls, Path of Exile, etc.
    2. Rare occasion some FPS
      1. Call Of Duty, Battlefield
    1. I have a lot of MP3s / iTunes MP4s, but also some FLAC that I listen to
      1. I know MP3s are compressed and are not the best quality, but I listen to them out of convenience because I have many
    2. Main genres are Rock/Metal, Movie/Game Soundtracks, and occasional Classical or Pop
    1. I watch all kinds of movies, but mostly Action/Adventure, Fantasy, and Science Fiction
      1. Lord of the Rings
      2. Star Wars / Star Trek
      3. Pixar / Disney
      4. Marvel / DC Comics
      5. etc.
    • What headphones are recommended as a serious upgrade to my DT-770s given my budget? 
      1. I do like these headphones (very comfortable) and they work great in general for gaming, music, and with my iPad (no amp needed), but I know there are probably better headphones I could get.
        1. As these are the only audiophile headphones I've ever owned or listened to, I guess I don't know what I'm really missing.
      2. I want something that will blow me away sonically, but since I'm in a shared room I also need closed back for privacy and not to distract others
      3. I like bass (kick drums in metal, explosions in movies/games), but don't want it to muddy the overall sound and my current DT-770s have a lot of bass, which seems to do this.
      4. I read that the 600 ohm version is much more balanced as far as the DT-770 or DT-880 line, but I know they would require an amp, which I'm ok with.
        1. But is Beyerdynamic really the best choice or are there even better options? It appears DT-770/600 ohm have also been discontinued, but I can still get DT-880, which are semi-open back (not sure how much sound leaks with semi-open vs fully open back).
        2. I keep running into Sennheiser HD600 as THE reference and quality headphones (for the price) in many places and they sound enticing (just to hear the difference would be interesting to me), but the fact that they are open back ruins it for me and my situation.
        3. Is there anything remotely close to the HD600 (soundstage, frequencies, etc.) in a closed back design that I should consider trying?
          1. I don't have the luxury of knowing someone with different models I could try locally, so have to go the Amazon / online route.
    • What DAC and Amp is recommended that would work even for 600 ohm headphones, should I choose to go that route?
      1. Often I'll see Schiit Modi 2/ Magni 2 recommened, as well as JDS Objective2+ODAC.
        1. There also appears to be Uber version of Magni/Modi, but don't know if that really matters for me.
        2. Are those the best choices or are there others I should consider and if these are good is there any real difference between Magni/Modi and O2+ODAC?
        3. I know the amp just amplifies the sound and doesn't affect quality, while the DAC does the initial digital-to-audio conversion prior to amplification.
          1. Does this combination help keep the signal clean so that I don't hear any annoying, staticy computer garbage when there is silence, which I do hear when my DT-770s are plugged into my Klipsch ProMedia (not sure how to describe the "noise")?
          2. I just want to get the best output so that I'm getting the full range of sound in my headphones with clarity.
    • Should I consider getting an equalizer as well (software or hardware)?
      1. What brands/models would you recommend?
      2. I don't know if this will give me more control over the sound quality.
        1. How do I know if I need one of these based on whatever headphones I go with?
        2. I've seen frequency graphs for headphones before, but I don't really know how to interpret them with regard to bass, mid, high or how to tell by a graph which headphones are better than another or if I'll need an equalizer to fix any inadequacies in certain frequencies for a given headphone.
    • Should I consider a new sound card over dedicated DAC, Amp, and Equalizer hardware or will I get the best quality from just sending my X-Fi sound card output to dedicated, external devices?
      1. My X-Fi doesn't have an amp for headphones, so either I need an external amp regardless, unless there is a better sound card that rivals an external setup (my guess is external is the better way to go)
    • Say I get a DAC, Amp, and Equalizer, how would I connect these so that I can get the best audio from my ProMedia speakers, while also being able to connect headphones and get the best sound there?
      1. What I mean is do those external devices have both inputs and outputs, so that I can plug in headphones when necessary, but also when headphones aren't plugged in my speakers will have sound coming through these devices instead of connecting my speakers directly to my sound card or having to swap cables around constantly?
    Overall I'm looking for the best setup within my budget. Desk space isn't a major issue, but I would like to keep it clean/neat without a lot of cables or super bulky devices.

    Other Notes:
    1. I recently got the Sound BlasterX G5, which serves as an external sound card with headphone amp and it also has software for Virtual Surround (5.1 and 7.1) as well as a software equalizer with presets.
      1. I like the flexibility of having a few presets to configure and choose from and the surround sounds decent, but I'm not sure if there is something better.
      2. I still have the option of returning it, which I may do based on the responses I get to my questions above.
    2. I certainly don't want any type of gaming headset.
      1. I have tried Astro A40 TR + MIXAMP TR Pro as well as Sennheiser Game Zero (connected to SBX G5) and was utterly disappointed in both cases.
        1. My understanding is gaming headsets are overpriced, cheaper quality headphones with a brand name slapped on them (at least in a lot of cases, maybe not all)
      2. I know audiophile headphones are what I want, but there are so many options and I simply have no experience or knowledge about what would be perfect for me, given my interests and environment described above
    3. I know Sound Blaster has an X7 device which is supposedly high grade, audiophile combination of DAC, Amp, (software) Equalizer, and well as having virtual surround, but honestly it's a big, ugly triangle shaped thing.
      1. I'm not really interested in that as an option, in case someone was going to suggest
    Any other hardware / advice I should consider that I didn't ask about above, to get a somewhat high end listening experience on a low end budget? [​IMG]
  2. PurpleAngel Contributor
    Hopefully you disabled the motherboard's on-board audio. in the BIOS, when you installed the Ti-HD (Titanium-HD) sound card.
    The Ti-HD makes a fairly good DAC.
    Might as well get an external headphone amplifier, that also comes with a separate line-output.
    Connect the external amp, to the Ti-HD's (RCA) line-output
    You can connect the speakers to the head amp's line-output.
    Currently my preferred headphone is the Beyerdynamic T90 :)
    Here is a good budget option, for a head amp.
  3. PCG4mr
    Thanks for the reply. I will read up on the headphone amp you suggested. I never heard of Bravo Ocean, but then again this is all still fairly new to me. I'm not too concerned about the cost, as long as it's within a budget of $500-600, which gives some room for decent hardware (I think). Most importantly I want to make sure I'm getting the best sounding device for the price as well. Does a tube amp like that change the sound at all, whether good or bad, and do the tubes have to be replaced at some point? Just want to make sure I know what I'm getting into if I go that route.
    Regarding the SB X-Fi Titanium HD card, I know it's referred to as an audiophile card, but I guess the lack of headphone amp and the fact that the manufacturer seems to drop support of their full software suite with a major Operating System update like Windows 10 has me a little disappointed with it and the company. They did the same thing with older SB cards I had when going from Windows XP to Win 7. Maybe I just don't know how to fully take advantage of this card even with just the basic drivers in Windows 10.
    Would an external DAC provide any benefits over my internal sound card or will it effectively be the same thing, just in an external package?
    Any suggestions on a quality, closed pair of headphones as an upgrade to my DT-770 80 ohm? I definitely like how comfortable these are and want something similar comfort-wise, but I'm interested in higher quality so that I can really enjoy FLAC / HD audio the way it's meant to be heard. I know open air cans like Senn HD600 / HD650 give a wider soundstage, but I need privacy when listening so I'm hoping there's a somewhat equivalent option, but in a closed back. 
    The Beyer DT-880 is considered semi-open. Does anyone know if that would leak as much sound as fully open cans like HD600 does? If it's more subtle, then I may consider trying a pair of those (600 ohm version), since I've read good things about them.
    I appreciate the help and advice.
  4. PurpleAngel Contributor
    Creative last issued drivers updates for the Titanium series about 6 months ago, which I think is fine for the basics (music, gaming, movies) of the sound card.
    Does not sound like you have any uses for the Ti-HD more advanced software features.
    The Titanium-HD's headphone jack is halfway decent for driving headphones like the DT770 (80-Ohm or 250-Ohm).
    But a external headphone amplifier, hooked to the Ti-HD's RCA jacks is more desirable.
    Guessing you would need to spend over $150, for a DAC, to even try to make a worthwhile improvement in audio quality, over the Ti-HD.
    Which is money might be more wisely spent towards headphones.
    The Bravo Ocean is a good value, for it's price, (might even give the DT770 a jump in audio quality), which leaving more of your audio budget for headphones.
    I guess the Sennheiser HD600/HD650 are consider more for audio quality, not so much for gaming surround sound (but I'm not the expert on the HD600/HD650).
    I figure the DT770, might even be better for FPS gaming, over the HD600/HD650 (for surround sound gaming).
  5. PCG4mr
    Thanks again PurpleAngel. I may give that Bravo Ocean a try since it's cheap. Now that you got me looking at tube amps I also am learning about the Schiit Valhalla 2, which looks pretty sweet, but of course is expensive (looks very cool though). But I think you're right, I should try saving some money to put toward newer headphones...once I can figure out if there is even an upgrade (better alternative) to my DT-770 cans.
    I do have the latest X-Fi drivers (February 2016 I think), but it's just the drivers, because I think that's all Creative provided...so yeah right now I'm not using the advanced software features. I just recently read about some 3rd party Daniel_K drivers for the X-Fi that supposedly brings back all the suite of tools that originally came with the X-Fi Titanium and are compatible with Windows 10, so I may try those out too.
  6. PurpleAngel Contributor
    For closed headphones, the Beyerdynamic T70 would give you a jump in clarity.
    Not sure how good there are for surround sound, compared to the DT770.
    I own both, but they are both a hour away from me and my computer.

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