Upgrade path questions

I just purchased a Dell XPS Studio 8100 running Windows 7 x64. It came w/ a Realtek HD Audio card + THX/Creative THX Tru Studio PC software. I'd like to improve the quality of what I'm hearing whether listening via external Swan D1080 speakers (inexpensive, but not too bad) or Sennheiser HD 650 phones. I was thinking of purchasing an Asus Xonar Essence ST or SXT soundcard, but while researching the Xonar cards I came across threads claiming that the Musiland Monitor USB 02 or a M2Tech hiFace are better options. I'll be getting a Squeezebox unit this summer (The DAC in the new SB Touch is supposedly better than the one in the Duet) and was not planning on purchasing a DAC to use before then. So, now I need some advice:

1) The Musiland and the hiFace need to be connected to the S/PDIF input of a DAC or amplifier (preferably one that accepts 192kHz digital audio streams at their S/PDIF input). Is this correct?
2) My Perreaux headphone amp only has RCA inputs, so to use the Musiland or hiFace, I'd need to get a different amp or purchase a DAC? Is this correct?
3) When using a Squeezebox product, the sound card is by-passed, thus the quality of the sound card is irrelevant. However, could the Musiland or hiFace be used between the pc and Squeezebox, and if so, would their use be benefical?
4) Are there other options under $200 that I should consider?

I'll be listening to streaming music on Rhapsody/Napster/Pandora/Last.fm and CD's played on the computer or ripped using EAC. FWIW, I am not a gamer.

Thanks for the help!
Senn HD 650, Perreaux Sihoutte SXH1 amp,
Denon AVR 3806, Denon DVD 1920, Revel Concerta F12 speakers
Dell XPS 8100 Realtek HD Audio SC w/ Tru Studio PC software (Creative/THX)
Swann D1080 Mk II speakers
Monster HTS 3500 Mk II and various cables.

First off, I’d give the brand new stuff some playing time. New is not at it’s best. Even sound cards need run in time. Your’s may surprise you.

I’ve seen Creative cards used to good effect and have done so myself I’m not familiar with the names of those you’ve input here however. There is more to a card than the numbers they specify or advertise, to be sure.

For the specifics of your queries on those cards, I’d suggest calling them first hand, or by email and allow them to address those items.

I’ve gotten pretty good results from my M Audio 24/192 Delta Audiophile PCI card. I aim to acquire a Lynx at some later date though. The Delta card outputs to a BC DAC3, BTW, so why move onto the 3 times more $$$ than the Delta? Read on.

Secondly, the sound card is important IF the output is going to be conveyed via AES, or SPDIF (TOS or coax), or at rates higher than 24/96. There and under USB works, and maybe only a converter from USB to SPDIF might be required to address one part of your interface issues.. The SPDIF Connection only and at rates no larger than 24/96.

Although your desire is to output digital to another digital device which will then convert to analog, some extrapolation of the bits and bytes is being done by the onboard card. Improving this one aspect of the chain will definitely be beneficial in the final analysis.

Streaming web radio normally, or in my own exp, has shown those ‘channels’ aren’t all of great quality or high resolution. The chain of devices following the pc/SC output will probably make little difference with them alone with other lossless files, and high res files, I’d say otherwise though.

Given the logistics of your current affair, I’d say if no other info can be derived to satisfy those questions regarding the SC’s you’ve listed here, I’d suggest trying out a M Audio Audiophile 192 card. From either Sam Ash or J River Music, they run under $200 on eBay, maybe even less.

The reason is simply in your list of system components. The Denon will be your bottleneck with the analog product.

My DAC ties into 2 systems as it has 2 sets of outputs. One pr feeds my upscale tube powered 2 ch rig, and the other pr, my Onkyo 805 receiver In various configurations, the receiver’s preamp section continues to limit the sound quality. Regardless the amps I connect to it, or cabling I use with it.

It sounds fine to me, BUT it’s still the place where I realize true limitations sonically. Consequently, I’d not spend tons for gear simply to feed it. I’ve done it merely for convenience purposes. The preposed Lynx card is truly aimed towards the more upscale system, my tube rig. In it, those benefits are easily noticeable and superior to the sound derived from the ONkyo.

Both systems however, use the same main speakers

BTW that MA 192 card outputs either digitally via Coax SPDIF or via 2 sets of analog outs. One pair are line outs for monitors and the other pr are adjustable. like for a HP amp.

There are also likewise associated inputs, SPDIF and analog. It will pass multi ch info if set to external clock in it’s associated driver/software GUI. IMO it has better flexibility and performance than any Creative card I’ve since used, X Fi, Extigy, and a couple of their USB cards.

Both interfaces analog and digital coax will address or enable you to use the HP amp and the Duet like device.

The M Audio support is far better too than is Creative’s. So for well under $200 why not? Also, the cable inbetween your card and your DAC/Squeeze box will make noticeable diffs. I use and recommend a Stereovox XV2, OR IT’S MORE CURRENT ITTERATION.
Thank you for the informative response. I haven't done anything yet. Now I'm thinking of maybe bypassing the card via a Music Streamer II USB DAC. The new one is only $149 and 24/96 compatible. The main issue w/ that is that there is only one set of outputs, so I'd have to use a splitter and I need to find out how much, if any, that will degrade the signal.