I have largely been of the opinion that nowadays sound cards aren't needed for the average user, and that onboard sound is adequate. Sound cards are largely reserved for those with expensive surround systems or top-notch headets.
But upon viewing this video, skip to 5:35 for relevant bit. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WiEQVn9K-VQ
Starting to doubt that opinion. Especially since the video is quite recent, I only thought that a sound card was a necessary component years ago when onboard was truly horrible.
So I was wondering if it is worth buying a cheap sound card (~$30 at most) for my Razer Carcharias headset. I am an audiophile by no strecth, just wondering if there will be a noticeable improvement from a sound card versus my AsRock Extreme4's onboard.
As long as your mobo has the outputs you want there is really no need for a dedicated sound card, unless you are not happy with the onboard performance. I also have an extreme 4 and think it sounds fine. Maybe if you got a super expensive headset or speakers you would notice a difference, but with a razer headset I doubt it.
OK first of all, sound is very subjective, so what for some might be a huge improvement, for you might not be much at all.
Now, in general, A sound card from low price range, if has the latest chip (latest technology and quality) will heavily outperform a regular onboard system.
There are 2 main reasons for this:
1.Onboard has les power output so stability is a problem (leading to lower performance).
2.Onboard sound is a cheap chip. So quality wise, th DAC (digital audio converter) will be weak, as well as other componenets.
For me, i started with onboard and moved to high quality sound (and would not go back ever), so i definitly encourage you to spend some cash for the test.
Id suggest asus xonar over value creative, since i had some problems with my titanium HD (a higher quality creative) on windows vista with crackling sounds (but it is a personal reason, so not really that important).
Finally, remmber that apart from video, audio is the only other way that the PC sends information to you, so it can have a huge impact on your PC expirience.
Buying a cheap sound card would be the same as using onboard audio, so stick with that instead of spending money on something that's practically useless except for drawing more power. If you're going with the enthusiast path, go with what Cats_Paw said.
...I am really getting annoyed at all the bad (if not horrid) audio advice on these boards nowadays...I *thought* things were getting better too...
Soundcards, when paired with decent audio equipment, make a significant impact in overall sound quality. Even the ASUS Xonar DG(X), priced at about $40ish, is a significant step up in quality over even the best onboard chipsets.
Of the cards listed, the DG or DGX are the way to go.