Debating a New Card/Speaker Setup

Good day all! I'm currently in the process of building a new computer, and wanted to use a sound card for this build as an upgrade from onboard. I'm not familiar with high-end audio equipment, however, having always used onboard audio and 2.1 Altec Lansings that are from ~1995 (my TV setup isn't much either).
For personal habits, I'd say my PC time is split evenly between music and gaming, so I'm trying to look for a card that can "do it all" well, rather than a card that will blow one category out of the water but drop the ball elsewhere. Other than that, I'm working with an apartment area so I do have to consider neighbors (plus I'm a night person) and spend a good deal of my PC time with a pair of headphones. I don't have a hard budget beyond personal common sense, so don't worry about money here.

After some browsing around, it would seem the best choice of soundcard would be the ASUS Xonar Essence ST. The only strong competitor seemed to be the HT Omega Claro Halo, but I read somewhere that the ASUS is typically viewed with a little better regard for internal components. I have to admit though, that I just recently found a review on Xbit that seems to have some gripes with the driver software features and ports. (I linked to the page, and the one after it is notable too.) Namely the paragraph about the DTS support, Dolby Headphone/Pro Logic mixing, and microphone capabilities caught my eye. Is it possible this reviewer got a buggy card (especially if the mic was so messed up, I do use voice)? I'm starting to rethink about that Claro Halo card. Any firsthand experience or general insights?

As a part two to all this, I'm looking into managing a speaker set up for the new computer as well for the weekends and afternoons off from work. This lead me to the Xonar H6 companion card (or it's Claro Halo equivalent now, the XT). The XT is more readily available but the H6 would have to be imported from the UK. All the same, I was curious about a good 2.1 or 5.1 setup for these cards. I was considering getting a Logitech Z5500 I found on Craigslist for cheap and using the analog ports to bypass the speakers' sound processing, but supposedly the control pod has a good risk of burning out. I'd still consider getting them, but I'd need to start learning about pre-amp/amp controllers to find a good one. I'm not terribly sold on getting a huge receiver as I think it'll either nullify the point of the sound cards or take up too much space for just acting as an amp. The idea of pitching over $600 for a PC sound system like that isn't terribly appetizing either. I guess what I'm asking for here is if anyone has any insight into the expansion cards and/or how feasible a setup something like this sounds.

I know I threw a lot at you, but any help is greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!
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  1. First and formost: Do you plan to take advantage of the STX's powered headphone amp? If not, I'd recommend something a bit cheaper [ASUS Xonar D1/DX, HT Omega Claro+, Auzentech Meridian 2G] instead.

    As for ASUS' driver software, it works. Not exactly the most pretty thing out there, but I haven't run into a situation where it doesn't work as advertised.
  2. Yes, I do. As I said, the majority of my listening is usually via my headphones. At the risk of sounding uneducated (or worse, flippant), how are you thinking I wouldn't? Cruddy set of headphones?

    Also, I should note that although the review I linked to was for the STX, I actually would be picking up the ST. In how I used it though it should amount to the same thing.
  3. ^^ Just checking; a lot of people here have been jumping on the STX bandwagon without even knowing what a powered amp is...

    If you also want to connect a set of PC speakers, you might want to consider the Xonar Xense ahead of hte ST/STX, so you have built in 3.5mm outputs. Should be a little cheaper then ST/STX + H6 combo.
  4. Yeah I follow you. I've seen your other posts though so I do understand your love for the Xense. :D But I like my current pair of phones so even ordering the Xense card separately seems a bit unnecessary. Plus pricewise it seems like it's about even at cheapest.
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