Even on $50-100 speakers, a dedicated sound card can make a huge difference. I'm still using some crap $80 Creative 7.1 set (p7800 or something like that) and the difference between my X-Fi and onboard sound is like night and day. When I finally get decent speakers, it will be even nicer.
Get a soundcard. ;)
Sgt. D. Pilla;4582831Well I'm not about to waste money on more speakers, especially when the ones I have are perfectly fine. I've had them since day 1 and they've done me well, it'd be like selling my new computer just to get better sound :(
Fair enough, but it is something to think about if you really do want major improvements down the line. I've had similar sets in the past and although they were adequate, they're nothing compared to a higher quality set of speakers. You will notice an improvement with a dedicated sound card, but really you need both to get the full benefit.
Put it this way: Feel free to upgrade, but unless you are going to replace your speakers don't bother spending much. Personally I certainly wouldn't go for anything more expensive than a M-Audio Revolution 5.1 (not if you use Vista 64-bit, there's no drivers AFAIK) or a *shudder* low-end Creative X-Fi. I'd never normally suggest a Creative card, but with your setup most of the reasons I dislike them won't make any difference anyway.
At the end of the day the speakers aren't designed for it. Having a higher quality output is meaningless if the speakers can't reproduce it and get the sound to your ears. Sets like that are designed to bring surround sound audio to the PC-using masses in one cheap package. They're not there to provide high quality audio for the discerning consumer, which is obvious in pretty much every facet of their design.
I've never noticed a big difference, because I've never really had amazing speakers or headphones. Shoulda done some testing when I could borrow my mom's noise-canceling Bose headphones :( Oh well though, I've given up with the sound cards because I'm too lazy to compare which is really better than another, and where the price vs. preformance drops off drasically. My current mobo has integrated hq-audio, so I'm fine with it.
If you're going to be watching Blu-Ray movies though, you'll probably notice it though. What's the point of hq video, but regular audio? Nil. Go audiophile, go digital :)
You forgot the "Of Course" voting option. You may have heard and experienced otherwise, but decisions of this type are heavily influenced by how good of speakers you have. Plenty of gamers spend as much as they can on GPU, CPU, MB, and RAM, so obviously lots of them consider a dedicated sound card and decent speaker set a luxury.
It's easy for many to comfort themselves in their purchase decisions by shrugging off the idea of spending more on sound by saying it's not necessary, when in fact after spending most if not all of their wad on the rest of the system they'd rather spend anything further on games.
Then again, and this is not intended as an insult, there are many levels of hearing abilities and preferences sound wise. Some may actually not be able to hear the difference, while others once they do are for some reason not impressed. In a nutshell being an audiophile is an "audience participation" thing. You're either into good sound or you aren't.
IMHO onboard sound is too low in dynamic range (typically no more than 100Hz-16,000Hz), too high in distortion, and lacking in midrange and bass warmth and depth. Granted I'm a bit biased toward analog sound, but even if I weren't I would not suffice with onboard.