My current Sennheiser HD 595 earphones has been degrading in quality lately. I think they're about done.
I would like to hear if you know of any earphones that are worth considering. The earcup material CAN'T be made of leather-like materials as they give blisters if you have them on for too long.
My current Maya EX5 USB sound card is at a similar performance as Creative Audogy2. Would it be required to get a better one? I don't have room for another PCI Express card. My current setup distorts sound as soon as you go a bit above normal sound levels, though that might also be the earphones.
I’ve always had phenomenal experience with Bose (the ear cups ARE skinned with leather, but have a memory-foam core) I’ve had no issues wearing them for 10-12 hours straight daily with almost no breaks. They are very comfortable and sound is that legendary Bose quality. The only issue is they are about ~100 bucks depending on where you get them.
Also I’ve never had a dedicated card in my system ever since board manufacturers have been putting sound on the motherboard. As far as the sound distorting issue, that definitely sounds like the phones. I’ve always been a fan of very loud music, and once owned a pair of skullcandy ear buds - one song played a tad bit too loud, and ever since in those headphones there is a nasty static in the left ear as soon as you raise the volume above a whisper.
bose are junk when you compare them to other headphones in the same price range. i'd take a look at what pyree said or look into another pair of sennheisers or audiotechnicas. i personally like the ath-m50 model, $100-180 depending on where you buy them.
about leatherette: most headphones come with this type of material. you can buy "headphone socks" to cover them or make your own from a soft pair of long socks... just cut the ends off and wrap them (there is a guide on the internet on it). it not only puts a softer surface on your ears but it makes the leatherette last much longer! the only downside is that it doesnt seal quite the same as sockless...and there might be a very slight downgrade in bass (but some people said it improved sound quality). in any case... the differences are minor and it will solve your issue of blisters. though... i've never had any problems with mine...perhaps it is a fit issue and not a leatherette issue.