Sound card for Grado Prestige Series SR80i Stereo Headphone

Headphones link:

Integrated audio:

Sound card I'm thinking of: ASUS Xonar Essence STX Virtual 7.1 Channels PCI Express Interface 124 dB SNR / Headphone AMP Card -

Sorry for links if not needed. i haven't built a system in 10 years, so it's new to me and funds are limited.

Between now and end of year planning on doing upgrades to the linked computer. Adding 2 more monitors, new hard drive, audio card, etc. I recently upgraded my headphones to the ones listed from an older pair, and well worth it. Tomorrow I upgraded my monitor to a 1080p monitor for movie watching.

My computer is 100% headphones. No intention of putting a speaker system on it. I sometimes listen to music, but currently watching movies and tv shows I download. I'll be buying a blu ray player at the end of the year and start building a blu ray collection of my favorite movies and tv shows. But for now, I just look for 1080p movies that sound interesting.

So, my question. How much of an upgrade would this sound card be, or can anyone recommend a better gsound card for 100% headphone usage for its life? Would it make a big difference in movie watching before blu ray drive, or should I just buy the other toys first and upgrade that last?

Also, if anyone has opinions on headphone cards, I wouldn't mind spending more of something is really nice. I'm trying to slowly turn my computer into a nice movie watching system so if I spend a couple hundred more on something I'll drool over, I'll buy a drool bib first.
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  1. Hello! I know this response is a week and a half old, but I can offer some insights.

    I own a Xonar Essence STX, and love it to death. This is a soundcard that you'll be carrying to your grave, or for as long as the PCIe standard lasts.

    Now, Grado's are great for sources like onboard as they do not require a ton of juice. The Xonar Essence's headphone amp is perfect for headphones requiring a lot of power like premium Senn's. However, the Xonar will excel at bringing out lusher sounds in music, upping the bass and likely taming the high's. It's no tube amp, but the Essence does have a 'tube-like' quality that is rather warm or 'analogue.'

    For movies, you'll find the Dolby Headphone options to be superb. While they're not perfect 5.1/7.1, the emulation is really damn good, and can be tweaked to your liking, offering different speaker 'positions,' and distances, among other things.

    Of course, you have to configure the Asus software before each different task, which can be cumbersome; it's not that the software is hard to use, it's just remembering to do so. Gaming performance is also very good, given that the Xonar is not a gaming card first-and-foremost.

    The Xonar DX, a cheaper card, does offer the same software suite, including Dolby Headphone, and also does very well with stereo and music. What it lacks is the headphone amplifier, and circuitry geared specifically for stereo like the Essence, but it is a fantastic all-rounder. Unless you're a stickler for 320kbps mp3's or FLAC's, and are a real audiophile, or are on your way to becoming one, you may want to research the DX as an option.

    One major problem with the Essence STX is how it can expose 'low bitrate' tracks. If you have mp3's that are even 256kbps and weren't well encoded, you will be left really wanting, especially with headphones like the Grado's. Just a heads up, as I found myself being unable to listen to many tracks that weren't up to snuff.

    If you are still responding to this thread and are interested, I have a set of Grado SR 325is' on their way to my door. I should be able to offer some degree of help in that respect too.
  2. I appreciate you responding. From what I gathered, upgrading my sound card from on board is probably the last upgarde I should do, so I'm taking my time. I'm planning on upgrading my graphics card this week and hopefully my sound card in 2-3 weeks. I'll look at the Essence STX definately, and appreciate it. I'm slowly upgrading my computer so it will still be good in a few years. My last desktop survived 6 years, and it was definately showing it's time, but I'm hoping if I spend some money now it will still be good (for my purposes) in a couple years.

    I'm not a gamer, so I don't see need major upgrades in the future years until I just buy a brand new system.
  3. Best answer
    Well, if you're still reading, I can render something of a verdict.

    The SR325's bass is restrained, as the SR80's should be too. This is a Grado trait which makes them great for hard rock and metal. However, the Essence adds just that extra punch that brings out some smooth sounds on the low end, without being overbearing at all.

    Additionally, the Essence seems to keep the highs restrained, an area where Grado's can be a little tiring.

    Much of my music is composed of hard rock, hair metal, and all that good stuff from the late-seventies and eighties. This is where Grado's generally excel, as they often bring you up close and personal.

    However, even in music that demands a large sound stage, the Essence helped bring out some more depth from the 325's, making Andrea Bocellii's 'Romanza' sound fantastic. Ditto for Yanni's 'Live at the Acropolis,' where the soundstage was perfectly adequate, giving a nice sense of space between me and the stage, but still providing meticulous detail.

    So what I'm saying is that since the SR80's aren't terribly different than the 325's, the Essence would be worth your while. Plus, if you decide to upgrade to a more premium set, be it Grado, Sennheiser, or AKG, the Essence will reward you with excellent sound.
  4. Look at HT | Omega's offering at their site,, there you can view their cards, that have built in headphone amp. Its superior than the me, remember how yellow was the new black "word on the street"?

    btw, spending $200 on a card that is only going to be used with a pair of heapdhones is kinda steep as an upgrade, those cards are better off with a speaker system, better yet, a HTS :P

    if your missing one PCI slot, then the Asus is a better option overall, but still a steep upgrade for a pair of headphones :P

    Creative's Titanium HD is a good card (for audiophiles and movie watchers) apart from Asus, and creative have made a good comeback from their horrendous driver support...though this was expected. Creative want people to buy new things from their inventory. Releasing diver updates for their older card stops people hunger for a new product.

    hope this helps in any way :)
  5. Best answer selected by dreamscaper.
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