Unless you are either deaf or using a $20 pair of speakers, there is still a significant quality difference between onboard versus a decent soundcard. Onboard gives good signal quality [IE, its clear], but the overall its falt, lifeless, and its dynamic range leaves much to be desired.
I had the exact same question before I went to dedicated, and I had to try it out myself before I got the answer. I understand why most people would be fine with on-board sound, including my brother, as on-board will provide you with all the standard sounds needed for the particular entertainment. However, I think there's no doubt there is a huge difference in sound quality going with dedicated, even in 2011. Even babies will know. Question is if you care?
I like good sound quality as it's easier to get drawn into things, and the experience is just so much better. People who claim not to hear a difference either has the wrong set-up, or heck load of ear wax stuck in their ears.
When I went from on-board to an XtremeAudio I heard a huge difference in music (i literally got a few tears), and I heard more voices playing Bad Company 2. Explosions were more wild and real, and in Counter Strike Source I could better pinpoint the enemy position and hear dogs, music and horses I couldn't hear before. Huge value for money right there... I got a Titanium HD and I'm never going back to on-board.
I would however, as you can read on my topic, never recommend a Creative to anyone or buy a new Creative product. I'll go ASUS next time for sure.
i currently have Asus Maximus IV P67 mobo which has a RealTek ALC889 on-board audio
and btw i have an excellent set of high end 2.1 speakers: Edifier S530
what do you think guyz?
Will you notice a difference in music...NO! Regular stereo music listening will not see any improvements according to my experiments. I've compared an Asus P6T onboard audio using SPDIF/Digital Audio connection and borrowed a friends really nice sound-card (I think it was creative, not sure though), and I couldn't tell the difference.
I heard all the frequencies that were in the song and it was just as crisp. An equalizer helped made both sound good.
^Those are just my results
I cannot speak for gaming however...I am not sure if gaming would be better or not, as it might help in processing of extra effects. However in music, the on board connection provided toe-to-toe quality in music. Maybe different onboard audio and different sound-cards will make a difference, but for me, it did not at all.
Audio and music are very subjective. You'll hear audiophiles waxing rhapsodic about things that have no basis in science, physics or psychology (except perhaps the placebo effect). However there are measurable and perceptible differences between the kind of audio hardware you find on a motherboard vs. a dedicated audio card. Having said that, however, there is good on-board audio and lousy on-board audio. YMMV. You could have a really good motherboard, or really untrained ears, or both.
Motherboard manufacturers are not going to invest heavily in the sound parts, simply because "adequate" is usually, well, adequate. It isn't cost-effective to spend a few cents more per motherboard when the vast majority of users wouldn't know high fidelity if it slapped them in the face.
The audio chips that go on motherboards are improving steadily, but they will always tend to be at the low end of the state of the art, because if someone wants really good audio, they can always buy a dedicated sound card, anywhere from $30.00 to $200.00. The dedicated cards may have more powerful digital signal processors (DSP), which reduces CPU loading, all else being equal, and/or they could have more features, more channels, more sample rates, etc. But they invariably have measurably lower noise, lower distortion, wider, flatter frequency response, higher current output, better interconnects, etc.
When you think about it, a mother board may devote a square inch to audio, whereas dedicated sound cards often dedicate 18 square inches or more. There's more room for high quality parts, better parts layout, with more space between critical components and conductors. When it comes to good sounding audio, layout is everything.