I have had the ESI [email protected] for a few years now and LOVE it. Blows away the Lynx and most anything else put there. The ESI is $150 or so. Not sure what you are saying about being made for recording (its made for audio). You won't be losing value for the recording side. Get it!
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"You don't have to configure your studio to [email protected], you can configure [email protected] to your studio. [email protected]'s EWDM drivers provide unparalled performance and stability, and provide support for all professional audio applications using ASIO and GSIF drivers.
With the powerful EWDM drivers and MIDI I/O [email protected] is perfect for post-production studios, one man bands and use with mixers and you can monitor the inputs and outputs directly through the digital mixer."
That's part of the item description on their web site. Who sells these cards? It looks like the type of thing that you get from a music/pro audio store.
I don't have direct experience as I use a server into a DAC, but my recollection is the [email protected] has been highly praised by many for audiophile purposes, so even if the designer was thinking about recording it seems to work great for reproduction.
My 1 cent!
XP was horrble for sound. Even using all the tweaks. They fixed it all since Vista onward. Actually I think windows 8 is even better than 7 and is the best so far for sound. You're going to be blown away by how much better the sound is with the newer OS.
Anyway please please try the Creative Sound Blaster ZxR SBX. It has a much higer signal to noise ratio of 124db compared to the ESI [email protected] I haven't heard the [email protected] so I can't comment on the sound. But I can say that I am totally blown away by the sound of the Zxr SBX. I mean blown away. It's unreal how amazing it sounds. I would put it against dacs costing thousands any day. I get a totally 3D sound from it. That's of course going to depend on your power supply and how well everything plays nice in your case no matter what card you get. But get it right and it's magic. Also don't forget a good powercord for you PC. It made a big difference on mine. And run it straight to the amps leaving out the preamp (like you want to do, makes a huge differnce)
You'll have to turn off the affects they have on by default too first though.
What exactly makes Windows 8 sound better than 7? The reason I'm asking is that I'm putting together a new PC and am not sure what to go with. I thought 7 was a lot better than XP and Vista. I did try 8 on a new PC I bought and took it back because I hated using it (also, a virus took it out before I was able to figure out how to get the antivirus installed.). I've since seen 3rd party fixes that allow you to get a regular desktop and start button. I don't want to buy something old, but I don't want a problem either.
Also, have you tried Linux? I use that as my main OS and like it very much. I don't think I have enough experience with PC audio to make a fair comparison.