FWIW, I do professional audio editing/mixing (local artist recordings, etc), although it's not my profession (more like "a side-jobby"; a mix of a hobby and a job
), and I would like to give a few pointers before the "audiophiles" start circling
- You should NEVER jump into "the high end" first, because you WILL end up wasting your money! What other people may think sounds good, you may (/will) think sounds like *****. Personal preference is HUGE in audio, and you need to trust yourself! For example, I NEED to have true monitors (the only 'cans I have that I consider TRUE monitors are my Grado PS-1000's; $1700 headphones), both headphones and speakers, for editing/mixing, because they have to be able to reproduce the sound without ANY coloration/distortion/etc while at the same time being able to mimic other output sources in quality and sound.
However, monitors are NOT what you want to listen to 24/7, you'll end up ripping your ears off! Rather, you want something that isn't so harsh and doesn't make the flaws in the track utterly painful to listen to!
- For gaming, I personally find that a fantastic sound-stage with accurate (not over-emphasized) bass is much more immersive than "thumpy" bass with a narrow sound-stage... Thus, I prefer open/dynamic headphones to closed headphones/IEM's significantly! The way I see it is that if I want both to "feel" the bass and have a decent sound stage, I'll use speakers, but speakers also don't have anywhere near the positional audio abilities that even "okay" open-air cans do.
- For music, I find that Open-Air/Dynamic Headphones are very much like listening to a band play on a wide outdoor stage, while closed cans are like listening to the same band in a small indoor venue with very hard walls. If you really like separation (i.e. hearing the drums "coming from the drummer", hearing the singer as he/she moves across stage, hearing the guitarist hold the guitar up over his head), open/dynamic headphones will make you smile forever! However, if what you prefer is that the bass exists to a point where it's clearly separate from the rest of the music, then closed would be your choice.
Natural bass doesn't separate itself from the rest of the music, it's an extension of it; to be honest, some of my favorite speakers TO THIS DAY are my Microsoft Digital Sound System 80 (from 1998!!!) which were built by Phillips, and use some unique subwoofer tech in the semi-passive/active radiating subwoofer that causes bass to rise and then roll off when it's the real "deep" stuff, but sound extremely sharp and punchy for snare drums and the like. I honestly have heard $2000 subwoofers that can't do bass as well as this $350 computer-speaker set from over a decade ago! (and this is what I mean about both "taste" and about "audio tech doesn't change like computer tech")
- YOU HAVE AN EXTREMELY CAPABLE CARD! The fact that people are (claiming, at least) to notice a "significant difference" between last-gen High-End Sound Cards and the Z(x/R) series makes me wonder if Creative is coloring the sound somehow...?? I mean, the Titanium HD for example has SNR/THD/THD+N levels that are as good as many professional audio cards, and it is an incredibly NEUTRAL card as well (although you can color it with the swappable OP-AMPS if you wish??)... Reducing the SNR/THD/THD+N levels any further wouldn't make a "significant difference" IN ANY WAY outside of an anechoic recording chamber!
...something wicked this way comes....
If you want some BROAD advice on speaker/headphone brands and lines to look into, I'd be MORE THAN HAPPY to help! I can also help steer you away from those that are just plain terrible or are over-hyped and over-priced trash... But neither I, nor anyone else, can decide FOR YOU!!