Audio setup (cards, cards, cards....which one?)

I have a decent pair of headphones:

Audio Technica ATH A-500

I have a decent? amp:

Sansui AU-517

Will I get better sound quality/dynamics by connecting a sound card from the PC to an amp and then to my headphones? (assuming that I am playing music files of the highest quality 320kbps)

Is there any quality loss when using a 3.5mm to RCA splitter?

I just want a decent STEREO setup. No intention on surround sound. Tight budget. Cheaper the better (looking at second hands)

What sound card should I get? I've been researching for quite a long time now and it seems that Creative is bullsh*t and that Asus is better. HTOmega isn't available in the UK.

I am personally looking at the Onkyo SE-90 and it seems to be fit for its job...

Any ideas?
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  1. Those headphones are much more than decent.. I am not sure about that amp but since you are using one, it'd always do a better job than any sound card.. The use of a splittes will definately cause disruptions along the line.. The scale of it depends on the input (which is quite good at 320 kbps) and the connection ends.. Since you are in need of stereo audio, you can give one look to the asus xonar essence stx.. It is the best mainstream stereo sound card ever made for pc.. It even has a dedicated headphone amp (but i wont rate it over an external amp device)..
  2. I just tried my headphones on the amp and I find that I have this hissing/buzzing sound which is also present on my computer. I'm guessing that there are some connection problems (unshielded wires?) in the inside...

    Subsonic filter (16Hz) didn't really help either. Or is it normal to have a hissing due to the high voltages used inside the amp?

    The essence is way out of my budget is realistically around 80USD (£50)

    Let me re-phrase my main question then:

    What cheapest setup will provide me with the best sound for my Audio Technica ATH A-500?

    (Playing sound files off a PC through a sound card?)
    (Playing sound files off a PC through a sound card through an amp?)
    (Burning my music [iTunes] onto CDs to play on a CD player through an amp?)

    (If I'm going through the CD player route, I'm guessing an uprgraded CD player is needed?)

    Lastly, what the hell does an amp do apart from amplify? Does it make the sound better (like a gigantic sound card)?
  3. 1. An AMP is not going to make the sound better.. The quality of the audio is sealed by the recording but the interim components such as the headphone drivers, the AMP, the connectors etc., decide on whether you hear the full scale available in the recording.. The lower the quality and construction of the components used, more the loss in details.

    2. Its always better to play the PC audio through the sound card as it being a separate board, minimizes the electronic distortion. The essence STX has a separate power plug which eliminates its need to be drawing power from the PCI lane interface giving the best possible audio.

    3. The requirement of an AMP depends on the headphone characteristics such as driving power and impedance. If you've an AMP, then use it by all means.

    4. Take a look at the M-Audio audiophile series sound cards. The audiophile 2496 is a gem of a performer and would give nice company to your awesome headphone.
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